Self-Monitoring in Sport

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.

Self-Monitoring Orientations

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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Snyder, M. (1987). Public appearances, private realities: The psychology of self-monitoring. New York: W. H. Freeman.

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