On the Management of Self Images in Social Situations:&Nbsp; the Role of Public Self Consciousness

Robert E. Burnkrant, The Ohio State University (student), The Ohio State University
Thomas J. Page, Jr.,
ABSTRACT - This paper will briefly review the treatment of the self image in the marketing literature. It will then suggest a more dynamic treatment of the self, one which holds that consumers who contemplate their presence in social situations process information about the kind of image called for in those situations and then use that information to construct an image of themselves through their strategic use of consumer goods. An individual difference variable, public self consciousness, will be employed to discriminate between people who are likely to take this strategic approach to self presentation and those who are not likely to take this approach.
[ to cite ]:
Robert E. Burnkrant and Thomas J. Page, Jr. (1982) ,"On the Management of Self Images in Social Situations:&Nbsp; the Role of Public Self Consciousness", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 09, eds. Andrew Mitchell, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 452-455.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 9, 1982      Pages 452-455

ON THE MANAGEMENT OF SELF IMAGES IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS:  THE ROLE OF PUBLIC SELF CONSCIOUSNESS

Robert E. Burnkrant, The Ohio State University

Thomas J. Page, Jr. (student), The Ohio State University

ABSTRACT -

This paper will briefly review the treatment of the self image in the marketing literature. It will then suggest a more dynamic treatment of the self, one which holds that consumers who contemplate their presence in social situations process information about the kind of image called for in those situations and then use that information to construct an image of themselves through their strategic use of consumer goods. An individual difference variable, public self consciousness, will be employed to discriminate between people who are likely to take this strategic approach to self presentation and those who are not likely to take this approach.

INTRODUCTION

The self concept has been treated in the marketing literature as a relatively stable characteristic of the individual which causes that individual to act in a manner which he (or she) believes is consistent with that concept. Several researchers have suggested that people seek and prefer products which they believe to be consistent with their concepts of themselves (Birdwell 1968, Dolich 1969, Grubb and Hupp 1968, Landon 1974, Ross 1971). This conclusion was based on the attainment of greater similarity between the individual's self-concept and the image of his most preferred brand than between his self-concept and his least (or less strongly) preferred brand. Since these results are based solely on associative evidence, the causal flow implied by this self-concept purchase-congruence model is open to serious question. Brand image-self concept congruence may have followed rather than preceded the formation of product preference, or lacking an image of the brand, people may use their own self concepts as a basis for inferring brand image.

A second major problem with the self concept-product congruence notion is that it implies trans-situational consistency in product selection. People prefer and purchase products that are similar to a relatively s-able concept they have of themselves. Since it is presumed that this concept is stable across situations, it is also assumed that product choice is stable across situations. However, this implied cross-situation stability is inconsistent with other consumer research that has examined the impact of situations on product choice. Sandell (1968) found that a person's choice of beverage was highly dependent on the situation, and that a person's choice in one situation was not necessarily the choice in another situation. Green and Rao (1972) showed that consumer's choices for baked goods varied considerably with meal situations. In fact, Belk (1975) reviews several studies that demonstrate that product choice is not consistent across situations.

In a more general sense, it is quite well known that measures of traits (including the self-concept) tend not to be very good predictors of situation specific behaviors (Kassarjian, 1971; Mischel, 1973). Epstein (1978, 1980), however, argues that trait stability will emerge if errors of measurement in behavior are removed. Specifically, he demonstrates that behavior can vary significantly with the situation and still show consistency when it is averaged over many situations. The self concept-product congruence notion has not demonstrated this consistency, at least as it has been treated in the consumer behavior literature. Therefore we must remain quite skeptical of this proposed relationship.

An alternative self relevant conceptualization which is much more situation specific than the traditional self concept congruence model is provided by social identity theory (Schlenker, 1975, 1980). This theory suggests that people who are about to enter a situation attempt to determine the impression which is called for or likely to be rewarded in that situation. They then attempt to present themselves in a way that they believe will generate the proper impression. In other words, people will project reward consistent self concepts. In some situations they will project positive self concepts, and in others they will project negative ones. Thus, rather than being a stable trait of the person, it is an image which is manipulated in order to achieve positive outcomes. This suggests very dramatic situational differences in the types of images people will project.

It has been shown, in support of this phenomenon, that people will present themselves in a manner which is inconsistent with their own self perceptions if that inconsistent presentation is likely to be believed by an audience and is in the individual's interests (Schlenker, 1975). A considerable body of other research has also shown that people will spontaneously state opinions, report behaviors, and make other claims that are inconsistent with their own internally held opinions when those opinions or behaviors are believed to be consistent with situational contingencies (see Schlenker. 1980; and Jones and Wortman, 1973).

Calder and Burnkrant (1977) have shown that consumers are able to form impressions about others based on their brand selection and that these impressions are sensitive to situational contingencies. It has also been shown that people contemplating their own presence in a situation will choose products for use in that situation that are consistent with the reward contingencies of the situation (Burnkrant, 1981). If those situational contingencies change, people change their selection of products. It will be argued in the research reported below that, if, when situations are manipulated, people select products that project inconsistent or contradictory but reward consistent images, that this result is in direct opposition to the transituational stability implied by the self concept-product congruence literature.

Public Self Consciousness

It is very likely that some people will be more sensitive than others to the impressions called for or likely to be rewarded in social situations. These people may also be more inclined than others to present an image of themselves that would lead to the desirable impression in these situations. The isolation of a variable that would identify these people would then permit marketers to reach groups who may be particularly inclined to use consumer goods to create and project favorable images of themselves. It is believed that public self-consciousness is such a variable.

Self-awareness theory, in general, "concerns a self regulation process that controls the intensity and direction of ongoing behavior. Specifically, self-attention is presumed to evoke a matching to standard process, whereby the person conforms to whatever he or she takes as the standard of appropriate behavior" for the situation (Wegner and Vallacher, 1980, p. 247). The greater the situationally induced self-awareness, the greater the correspondence to behavioral standards.

In addition to situationally induced self-awareness, there appears to be a disposition to be self-aware called self-consciousness. Public self-consciousness is an individual difference variable that accounts for the tendency of an individual to adopt the perspective of other people and view himself (or herself) as others do (Fenigstein, Scheier, and Buss, 1975; Carver and Glass, 1976). People who are high in public self-consciousness are particularly concerned with their social appearance and the impression they make on others (Turner et al., 1978).

"An implicit assumption of researchers working on this area has been that individual differences in self-consciousness will produce the same effects on behavior as will situational manipulations of self-focused attention" (Wegner and Vallacher, 1980, p. 249). This assumption has been supported by the relatively small amount of research on public self-consciousness. For example, Fenigstein (1979) found that women that were high in public self-consciousness were more sensitive to peer group rejection and less willing to affiliate with the group in the future than were women that i>>- were low in public self-consciousness. Scheier (1980) tested the hypothesis that individuals high in public self-consciousness should try harder to create a favorable public image and should therefore be more likely to change their own beliefs to make them more consistent with beliefs of others around them than individuals low in public self-consciousness. To test this hypothesis, he had subjects write an essay reflecting their opinions on an issue and he told them the essay would be discussed with another individual. His results demonstrated that individuals high in public self-consciousness expressed opinions that were more moderate than the ones they actually held, whereas individuals low in public self-consciousness did not change their opinions.

The existing research on public self-consciousness (Fenigstein, 1979; Scheier, 1980) has demonstrated that people who score highly on this construct are more sensitive than others to the impression they make in social situations and are more aware of the actions, thoughts, and feelings of relevant others. It is reasonable to expect, but has never been shown, that people who score highly on this variable would also be more inclined than low scorers to use consumer goods to create favorable impressions. It was expected in this research that those who were high in public self-consciousness would choose products that were more consistent with the kind of impression called for in a given situation than would be chosen by people low in public self-consciousness.

METHOD

The method employed in this research was similar to a procedure employed earlier by Calder and Burnkrant (1977). Scenarios were developed which were found to be realistic and representative of the kind of situation a subject might encounter. The scenarios described the subject and her husband (all subjects were married women) preparing to have the husband's boss over to dinner. The boss was always described as a gourmet who in the past had served the husband and wife duckling roasted in a cherry and wine sauce, artichoke heart salad and cherries jubilee for dessert. The scenarios then manipulated the impression called for in the given situation. In half the scenarios the boss was described as preferring to promote people who have tastes and interests which are very similar to his own. In the other scenarios the boss was described as preferring to promote people who have tastes and interests which were very different from his own.

Subjects were assigned to scenario conditions by the random distribution of test booklets. After reading the scenario, the subject was asked to describe the meal she would serve when the boss came to dinner. A series of blank lines was provided for that purpose. After the meal was described, subjects were asked to complete the Fenigstein, Scheier, and Buss (1975) self consciousness scales.

The meal provided by each subject was then typed on a new questionnaire and given to a separate group of subjects who judged the characteristics of the meals created by the initial subjects. These judges were unaware of the manipulation and condition that generated each meal. Each judge rated all the meals provided by the initial subjects in terms of their sophistication and whether or not they were gourmet meals. In addition, the judges also rated each meal in terms of its similarity to the meal that had been served by the boss (i.e., duckling roasted in a cherry and wine sauce. artichoke heart salad. and cherries jubilee).

The dependent variables were generated by the judges. They were the judges' ratings of the meals' sophistication, gourmet characteristics, and similarity or difference from duckling roasted in cherry and wine sauce, artichoke heart salad, and cherries jubilee.

Two independent variables were employed in this research. The first independent variable was whether the situation described to the initial subjects called for an impression of an individual that was similar or different from the boss. The second independent variable was created by generating a public self consciousness score for each initial subject. Then, subjects were divided into high and low public self-consciousness groups by a median split of their scores on this dimension. Thus, the design conformed to a 2 (similar or different impression) by 2 (high vs. low public self-consciousness) between subjects factorial experimental design.

RESULTS

A preliminary 2 x 2 factorial multivariate analysis of variance was performed on the three dependent variables to generate a within-cell (or error) correlation matrix of dependent variables. This provides correlations among dependent variables which are unbiased by treatment effects. This was done to determine whether it would be appropriate to combine any of the dependent variables into multi-item scales. The analysis showed that the sophisticated and gourmet ratings correlated at .93 (p < .001), but the similarity scale was not correlated with either of the other 2 scales. Therefore, a sophisticated-gourmet scale was created by summing judged ratings on the sophistication and gourmet scales. The similarity scale was maintained as a separate dependent variable for the subsequent analysis of this data.

A 2 x 2 factorial multivariate analysis of variance was performed on the two remaining dependent variables (see Table 1). The multivariate effect of the subjects' self consciousness score was significant (p < 0.05). An examination of the univariate F ratios shows that the multivariate effect was due to the effect of public self consciousness on the similarity of chosen meals (p < 0.05). The means (see Table 2) show that this was due to the greater tendency of high public self consciousness subjects (relative to low public self consciousness subjects) to serve meals which were similar to the meal initially provided by the boss.

A highly significant (p < 0.0001) multivariate effect was also obtained for the similar-different impression treatment. The univariate F-ratios show that this was due to the effect of the impression called for on the sophisticated-gourmet characteristic of the chosen meals (p < 0.0001). The table of means shows that when a similar impression was called for, a more sophisticated-gourmet meal was created than when a different meal was called for. [In order to assess possible demand artifacts that may have affected this result,at the end of the questionnaire subjects were asked what they thought the purpose of the experiment was. In response to this question, nobody correctly guessed the hypothesis being tested.]

TABLE 1

MULTIVARIATE ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE

DISCUSSION

It was maintained initially that people will be sensitive to the kind of impression called for in various situations and that they will seek to create an impression consistent with what is called for through their strategic selection of consumer goods. This contention was supported by the data. It was found that consumers created a meal which was more sophisticated when a sophisticated impression was likely to be rewarded and they created a meal which was less sophisticated when a different impression was called for. The results show that consumers do use consumer goods to create impressions and that their selection of these goods is consistent with the reward contingencies inherent in social situations. It shows, furthermore, that their selection of goods is not stable across situations.

This implies a more active process of consumer decision making and behavior than is suggested by a self concept congruence model. According to self concept congruence, an individual has a relatively stable concept of himself (herself) that he (she) seeks to express in his (her) purchase behavior. This suggests relatively stable product selection and use across situations, where the selected products are the ones that are congruent with the individual's self concept. Through random assignment of subjects in this post test only experimental design, the two groups should not have differed significantly in terms of their aggregate self-concepts. Therefore it is unlikely that differences in self-concepts between the two groups could account for the results, and we are forced to conclude that different types of products were chosen in order to project different self-images. The present research suggests then that consumers first determine the type of impression likely to lead to positive outcomes in a given social situation and then select products for use in that situation which they believe will help create that impression.

It was also maintained initially that people who are high in public self-consciousness should be more sensitive to the type of impression called for in social situations and they should be more inclined to act in accord with these impressions than people who are low in public self consciousness. Support of this contention would have required a significant interaction effect so that in the similar condition those high in public self consciousness would have chosen a meal which was more similar to the meal initially served by the boss and more sophisticated than the meals chosen by low public self consciousness subjects, but in the different condition, high self consciousness subjects should have chosen a meal which was more different from the meal initially served by the boss and less sophisticated. This interaction did not emerge from the data. Thus, it appears that high public self consciousness subjects are not more inclined to act in accord with the reward contingencies inherent in social situations. Instead, subjects high in public self-consciousness may be aware of the kind of impression they are creating, but they do not necessarily use this knowledge to gain approval of others. In other words, even though people high in public self-consciousness may be aware of the kind of impression required to gain approval from others, this knowledge alone does not automatically insure that they will seek to gain such approval (Wegner and Vallacher, 1980).

A main effect for public self-consciousness was obtained. People who were high in public self-consciousness tended to create meals that were more similar to the meal initially served by the boss whether or not a similar impression was likely to be rewarded. Thus it appears that individuals high in public self-consciousness may be more sensitive to the past behavior of the person with whom they are planning to interact than to the reward contingencies of the situation. This finding appears to be the first experimental support for what Wegner and Vallacher (1980) call the recency principle. This theory says that a major determinant of the self-aware person's behavior is the extent to which the potential source of influence is already having or has recently had an impact on the person's behavior. Therefore, the recent past action of the boss having served a gourmet meal should have a more dominant impact on the subject's choice of meals than reward contingencies. In light of this theory, it is not surprising that subjects high in public self-consciousness chose meals that were similar to the one the boss had already served regardless of the impression called for in the situation.

TABLE 2

TABLE OF MEANS FOR THE MANOVA RESULTS OF TABLE 1

CONCLUSION

These results suggest that an important consideration in the selection of products used in social situations may be the impression likely to be created by the use of those products. Marketers of socially consumable products may be able to enhance the effectiveness of their marketing programs by studying the situations in which their products are consumed. This study should include an assessment of the types of impressions likely to lead to favorable outcomes in these situations as well as an assessment of the impressions-likely to be generated by use of the manufacturer's brands. This information could help marketers develop promotional and other strategies to clarify and strengthen the association between their brands and a set of cohesive desirable impressions.

The research also suggests that, for socially consumed products, public self consciousness may be an important segmentation variable. It could help isolate the type person that is likely to be highly aware of the type of impression called for in a given situation and aware of the types of products that could be used to create that impression.

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