Social Chameleons

Some people are great at self-monitoring in social situations. They attenuate their behavior based on the social dynamic they are in, engage in impression management, tend to be concerned with the appropriateness of their actions, and adapt well to different social circumstances.

High self-monitors are often likeable and successful people, and highly desired romantic partners. However, a 2007 study showed that people who score high on measures of self-monitoring may seem desireable partners, but often they are less happy in their relationships and less committed.

Michael Roloff, one author of the study, suggests that a tendency to adapt their personality to fit different situations keeps them from letting their true selves out during intimate interactions with romantic partners.

Low self-monitors, on the other hand, are less likely to hide their feelings, and appear to be happier with their relationships and more committed. However, as Roloff points out, these people might be less diplomatic, they may say hurtful things, and studies show they tend to be worse negotiators and get promoted less at work.

Obviously, most people fall in a middle ground between these extremes, and have some aspects of both traits. It seems valuable, then, for all of us to keep in mind the trade-offs of being diplomatic and fitting in versus wearing all your thoughts on your sleeve all the time. Certainly some combination of diplomacy and bluntness can mitigate the downsides of both. Indeed, Roloff’s study points out that intimate communication and tendencies that enhance communication quality tend to improve the quality of relationships even for high self-monitors.

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2 Responses to Social Chameleons

  1. By the way, here’s the citation for that study:
    Wright, C.N., Holloway, A., & Roloff, M.E. (2007). The dark side of self-monitoring: How high self-monitors view their romantic relationships. Communication Reports, 20, 101-114.

  2. Or maybe the whole “self-monitor personality trait” construct is bullshit. The entire idea, like many in psychological studies of personality, comes from someone developing a scale — a standardized personality quiz — with questions related somehow to the topic in question. In this case, Mark Snyder developed the Self-Monitoring Scale in 1974, and as you can see, it consists of asking people to self-report on their behavior or opinion of themselves.

    Of course, this means they may be inaccurate in assessing their dispositions and behaviors. But more importantly, boiling people down to a category and label based on statistical correlations among answers on a personality quiz can’t help but result in over-simplifying real life behavior.

    A person asked a true-false question about their behavior around others is forced to cognitively simplify all the diversity, context and complicated dynamics involved in social interaction and summarize their interactions in a very simplistic, dichotomous way. Their quiz answers may follow a consistent pattern, allowing us to group and label consistently, but until we actually watch these people in the real world, we don’t know whether or how their behavior actually differs. For example, are “high self-monitors” (those whose scores on the quiz label them as such) actually the center of attention in groups of people or do they just report being so?

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