Impression management, theory of

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Theory of impression management



Alternate name(s)


Identity Management

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Perceived Reality

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)


Concise description of theory

Impression management (IM), originated by Erving Goffman (1959), describes a central aspect of role theory: how individual actors create, maintain, defend, and often enhance their social identities through assumptions, settings, props, and scripts in a play metaphor (Dillard et al 2000, Goffman 1959, and Schlenker 1980). IM explains the motivations behind complex human interactions and performances.

IM is the goal-directed attempt to influence others’ perceptions about a person, a group, and/or an organization regarding an object or event by providing self-assessed beneficial information in social interactions. The goal for the aforementioned attempt is to gain an advantageous first impression. The motive for this goal is based on the assumption that the target audience’s impressions about the individuals, groups, or organizations become reality of the target audience. Authors, philosophers, and social science researchers have long interpreted the reality each individual entity “acts” and believes in as a “stage.” In each stage, humans, individually or in groups, and organizations “play” their part(s) on this “world stage” according to William Shakespeare (As You Like It, Scene 2, Act 7)1.

On the IM “stage,” the target audience can be either real or imaginary. The impression exists in the subliminal level through socialization and generally does not manifest until the “actor” either succeeds or fails to resonate with the target “audience” and, in turn, the targeted “audience” transforms the performance of the “actor” into the reality of the target “audience.”

Diagram/schematic of theory


Originating author(s)

Erving Goffman

Seminal articles

Bouchard, L. and Markus, M.L. "Managing One's Business Partners: The Selling of EDI" in Impression Management and Information Technology, J.W. Beard(ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport, CT. 1995.

Dillard, C., Browning, L. D., Sitkin, S. B., and Sutcliffe, K. M. “Impression Management and the Use of Procedures at the Ritz-Carlton: Moral Standards and Dramaturgical Discipline” Communication Studies, 51(4) (Winter 2000) pp. 404-414.

Giacalone, R. A., and Rosenfeld, P. lmpression Management in the Organization. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Hillsdale, NJ, 1989.

Giacalone, R. A. and Rosenfeld, P. Applied Impression Management. Sage: Newbury Park, CA. 1991.

Goffman, E. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Doubleday: New York, NY 1959.

Leary, M. R. Self-Presentation: Impression Management and Interpersonal Behavior. Brown & Benchmark Publishers: Madison, WI. 1995.

Leary, M. R., and Kowalski, R. M. "Impression Management: A Literature Review and Two-Component Model" Psychological Bulletin (107:1) 1990, pp. 34-47.

Pontari, B. A. and Schlenker, B. R. (2004). Providing and withholding impression management support for romantic partners: Gender of the audience matters. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 41-51.

Schlenker, B. R. Impression Management: The Self-Concept, Social Identity, and Interpersonal Relations. Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.: Monterey, CA 1980

Schlenker, B. R. (2003). Self-Presentation. In M. R. Leary and J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (pp. 492-518). New York: Guilford.

Schlenker, B. R., Britt, T. W. and Pennington, J. W. (1996). Impression Regulation and Management: A Theory of Self-Identification. In R. M. Sorrentino & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition: The interpersonal context (Vol. 3, pp. 18-147). New York: Guilford.

Schlenker, B. R. and Pontari, B. A. (2000). “The Strategic Control of Information: Impression Management and Self-Presentation in Daily Life.” In A. Tesser, R. Felson, and J. Suls (Eds.), Perspectives on self and identity (pp. 199-232). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Originating area

Sociology, Social Psychology

Level of analysis

1. Strategies to protect and enhance the self to the self.

2. Interpersonal strategies to protect and enhance the self identity to others.

3. Group level protection and enhancement where various groups attempt to protect and enhance images through the methods of “public relations.”

IS articles that use the theory

Dillard, C., Browning, L. D., Sitkin, S. B., and Sutcliffe, K. M. “Impression Management and the Use of Procedures at the Ritz-Carlton: Moral Standards and Dramaturgical Discipline” Communication Studies, 51(4) (Winter 2000) pp. 404-414.

Katz, E. and Wynn J. E. “Hyperbole over Cyberspace: Self-Presentation and Social Boundaries in Internet Home Pages and Discourse” The Information Society, (13) 1997, pp. 297-327.

Lim, K. H., Benbast, I., and Ward, L. M. “The Role of Multimedia in Changing First Impression Bias” Information Systems Research, 2000 (Vol. 11: 2 June): 115-136.

Tractinsky, N. and Meyer, J. “Chartjunk or Goldgraph? Effects of Presentation Objectives and Content Desirability on Information Presentation” MIS Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 3. (Sep., 1999), pp. 397-420.

Winter, S. J., Saunders, C., and Hart, P. “Electronic window dressing: impression management with Websites” European Journal of Information Systems (2003) 12, 309–322

Links from this theory to other theories

Symbolic Interactionism, Dramaturgy, Self-Monitoring Theory, Self-Regulation Theory, Self-Verification Theory

External links Baylor University IM entry. University of Florida IM Seminar. Blog entry of Joseph DeVito, author of more than 8 textbooks on communication. Wikipedia IM entry. Wikibooks IM entry. Encyclopedia IM/Goffman entry. YouTube IM entry “The Break Up”. YouTube IM entry “IM on YouTube”. YouTube Self Presentation entry “Self Presentation”

Original Contributor(s)

Jason Chen

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