Self-monitoring reflects the regulation of individuals’ expressive behavior, self-presentation, and nonverbal displays of affect in social situations. With a grounding in theories of self, Mark Snyder advanced the study of self-monitoring to heighten understanding of dispositional (i.e., stable) versus situational influences on behavior.
At its core, the construct of self-monitoring is embedded in the belief that people’s behavior is guided by internal (e.g., dispositions, attitudes) and external (e.g., characteristics of the situation) cues in the environment. Based on scores from Synder and Steve Gangestad’s revised 18-item Self-Monitoring Scale, individuals with greater and lower propensity to self-monitor are classified on the basis of a dichotomous (true or false) format. Individuals higher in self-monitoring are responsive to situational contexts and readily engage in self-presentational strategies to fit a given situation or role. As such, these individuals are likely to be adaptive in social situations and able to tailor their behavior to fit situational and interpersonal demands. In contrast, individuals with a lower tendency to self-monitor are more likely to behave in a manner consistent with “who they are” as opposed to being swayed by situational cues. For these individuals, the expression of behavior is closely linked with their inner attitudes, emotions, and dispositions.
Consequences of Self-Monitoring
Self-monitoring has been related to a wide range of behavioral domains spanning (but not limited to) leader emergence, status, and perceptions of social cues. In exercise contexts, research delineating the influence of self-monitoring has generally been guided by three propositions, each of which is considered next.
Proposition 1. Self-Monitoring Orientation Has Implications for Self-Presentational Processes
In an attempt to unpack self-presentational processes and the conditions that elicit socio-evaluative threat, exercise psychology researchers often manipulate the physical environment (e.g., scenario-based research; wearing revealing clothing). A recent study by Steve Bray and colleagues found that individuals with more propensity to self-monitor reported greater efficacy in their ability to present themselves in a manner consistent with an “exerciser” (e.g., fit, strong) regardless of the manipulation when compared to those lower in self-monitoring. When physique anxiety was evaluated in response to different exercise scenarios, little variation was noted for higher self-monitors. Conversely, individuals with a lower tendency to self-monitor were more likely to report greater physique anxiety in the presence of specific environmental threats (e.g., exercising in a mixed as opposed to same-sex environment). These findings support suppositions of self-monitoring. That is, individuals who are more prone to adapt to the demands of social situations develop greater efficacy in their ability to adjust to environmental cues and demonstrate less affective reactivity (i.e., less variability) in unfamiliar social situations.
Proposition 2. Individuals With a Lower Propensity to Self-Monitor Will Demonstrate Greater Attitude–Behavior Consistency
Attitudes reflect the tendency to evaluate an object, person, or situation as favorable or unfavorable. Behavioral responses, either through intentions or overt acts, are often deemed expressions of one’s attitude. For example, an individual who holds a favorable attitude toward physical activity (PA) should report greater intentions to active and/or behavioral engagement. However, the nature of the attitude–behavior relationship may be more complex than originally believed as individual difference variables or situational factors may attenuate the relationship. Self-monitoring is one personal-related variable posited to moderate the attitude–behavior relationship. More specifically, individuals who are less likely to self-monitor should demonstrate greater attitude– behavior consistency given they are less likely to react to situational cues. The unique influence of self-monitoring on the attitude–exercise intention relationship has been supported in university students. The extent to which individuals lower in self-monitoring intended to exercise was consistent with their favorable versus unfavorable attitudes toward the activity. Conversely, higher self-monitors demonstrated no relationship between attitudes and intention to exercise.
Proposition 3: The Propensity to Self-Monitor Is Associated With Attitudes Toward Messaging
Health promotion specialists have often relied on the use of messaging strategies in an effort to communicate the benefits of PA. Two common forms of messaging are health-based (e.g., cardiovascular health) or appearance-based (i.e., focusing on outcomes linked to attractiveness). Consumer behavior research has suggested that those higher in self-monitoring are more persuaded by appearance-based messages given individuals’ desire to create a specific image. Conversely, messaging focusing on more stable dispositions (e.g., personal values) is evaluated more favorably by those lower in self-monitoring. This finding has been supported in an exercise context among university students and refuted among pregnant women such that there were no differences between health and appearance-based messages.
Self-monitoring has been a widely studied construct to develop understanding of social behavior. Its adoption in exercise contexts has been slower to emerge. Preliminary results demonstrate utility for the role of self-monitoring in understanding self-presentational and attitudinal variation in exercise contexts.
- Bozionelos, G., & Bennett, P. (1999). The theory of planned behaviour as predictor of exercise: The moderating influence of beliefs and personality variables. Journal of Health Psychology, 4, 517–529.
- Bray, S. R., Bassett, R. L., & Amirthavasar, G. (2011). Self-monitoring and women’s self-presentational reactions to variations in sex of the exercise class instructor and co-exercisers. Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 16, 1–15.
- Fuglestad, P. T., & Snyder, M. (2009). Self-monitoring. In M. R. Leary & R. H. Hoyle (Eds.), Handbook of individual differences in social behavior (pp. 574–591). New York: Guilford Press.
- Rhodes, R. E., & Courneya, K. S. (2000). The effects of a health-based versus appearance-based persuasive message on attitudes towards exercise: Testing the moderating role of self-monitoring. Journal of Social Behavior & Personality, 15, 321–330.
- Snyder, M. (1987). Public appearances, private realities: The psychology of self-monitoring. New York: W. H. Freeman.