Self-Monitoring of Behavior and Its Effect on Social Relationships

There are those who adapt to their environment in order to fit it and those who are simply governed by their internal states. Your level of self-monitoring is decisive when it comes to identifying which group you belong to.
Self-Monitoring of Behavior and Its Effect on Social Relationships

Last update: 22 November, 2021

You only need to sit with a group of people for a while and watch them interact with each other to identify the differences between them. Some like to attract attention, while others prefer to stay in the background. There are those who put all their charm on show, modulate their voices, and are extremely demonstrative, and those who are more natural. This division of attitudes can be explained based on an interesting concept, that of self-monitoring.

Self-monitoring can be defined as the degree to which a person adapts their behavior to their social context. In other words, the level at which they monitor themselves to respond in a socially desirable and appropriate way.

The way you use this ability can determine the success of your interactions. It also says a lot about your own personality. If you want to know more about it, read on.


Self-monitoring of expressive behavior is a concept proposed by the social psychologist, Mark Snyder to account for how people behave socially. More specifically, it concerns how much attention they pay to their behavior in respect of its compliance with social expectations.

The terms self-observation, self-control, and self-presentation are also used. Ultimately, what’s being analyzed is the importance for the individual of the image they’re projecting to others and to what degree they monitor themselves to ensure that the projection is positive.

Along with the theory of self-monitoring, Snyder designed a scale for evaluating this trait. In other words, to determine where individuals are on a continuum. The scale assesses their degree of agreement or disagreement with statements such as the following:

  • I’m not always the person I seem to be.
  • I laugh more when I’m watching a comedy with other people than when I’m alone.
  • I’m rarely the center of attention in groups.
  • I tend to show different parts of myself to different people.
  • I try to pay attention to how others react to my behavior to avoid being out of place.
Man with weird face

High or low self-monitoring: where do you stand?

Depending on the answers given to the questionnaire, the individual obtains a score that places them in the high, low, or intermediate zone of the self-monitoring continuum. Generally, there are some common characteristics for subjects with similar scores:

People with high self-monitoring

  • They’re outgoing and oriented towards other people.
  • They act according to the context and are governed by specific situations.
  • They tend to supervise and monitor their behavior to adapt it to social demands.
  • They’re more sensitive to the expression and self-presentation of others. They’re also good at extracting key information and being able to read others.
  • They tend to have different friends for different activities.

People with low self-observation

  • They’re introverted and self-oriented.
  • They’re governed by their personal principles, beliefs, and dispositions.
  • They don’t change to fit the context. In effect, they’re more spontaneous and laid back.
  • Their friends are ‘for everything’. They don’t have different friends for different activities.

It’s worth mentioning that these characteristics represent the highest and lowest scores. However, a large part of the population will be in an intermediate position. For this reason, it’s highly likely that you won’t identify 100 percent with any of the previous descriptions.

Friends talking

Repercussions on a social and personal level

The degree of self-monitoring has a great influence on a social level. In fact, those who show high self-monitoring tend to be more charismatic and successful in their interactions with others. They’re the center of attention and better adapt to the demands of different contexts.

On the other hand, those who show a low level of self-observation may more frequently experience social rejection or unsatisfactory interactions. In fact, they can be somewhat insensitive to the norm and this can cause problems for them.

Life is a theater and it seems that these people worry less about taking care of the script. In addition, it’s been observed that they may present a greater risk of suffering from depression. This is because, by maintaining such a cohesive image of themselves, a situation that threatens any one of their roles would have a greater global impact on them.

However, this isn’t a pathological or negative trait in itself. As a matter of fact, low self-observation has been shown to be related to higher implicit self-esteem. In other words, in these people, there’s less difference between their real selves and their ideal selves. In addition, when interacting with others on an emotional or sexual level, they’re more likely to prioritize personality over physical appearance.

Ultimately, the goal will always be to qualify your attitudes in order to find a balance that works for you on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, adapting socially can bring great advantages. However, being excessively concerned about how you project yourself and how others see you can trigger anxiety problems. It’s best to try and find a midpoint.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Avia, M. D., Carrillo, J. M., & Rojo, N. (1991). Auto-obsevación, apertura a la experiencia y elección de situaciones sociales: un estudio preliminar. Análisis y modificación de conducta17(55), 801-811.
  • Fernández, J. S., & Gómez, J. L. G. (1991). Factores psicosociales y síntomas depresivos: el caso de la auto-observación. Psicothema, 381-399.
  • Jiménez, J. A. (1999). Autoconciencia, personalidad sana y sistema autorreferente. Anales de Psicología/Annals of Psychology15(2), 169-177.
  • Snyder, M. (1974). Self-monitoring of expressive behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 30(4): 526.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.