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Do people adjust their role performance and presentation of the self to affect the opinion of others? Would you say that we have different “social selves” that we present in different settings? How does this relate to the concepts of impression management and/or the looking-glass self? Provide examples in your explanation.

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Julianne Hansen, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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People are such complex beings and in today's society have equally complex lives. They absolutely alter their self-presentation as needed based on social expectations, professional expectations, and personal expectations.

Consider a typical teacher (a role I know pretty well). Walking into a professional setting to deliver a summary of research to her peers about the best interventions for students with special needs requires one presentation of self. She needs to seem knowledgeable, well-spoken, quick-thinking, well-organized, and well-studied. When she walks into her class of high school sophomores to discuss Romeo and Juliet's quick marriage, she needs a different presentation of self. She wants to be relatable to teenagers, approachable, humorous, and able to maintain control of the conversation and environment. When she later meets with her son's soccer coach about his upcoming tournament, she needs yet another presentation of self. Now she needs to be friendly, casual, nurturing, and encouraging.

It's not that people change who they are to deceive an audience, but people are required to highlight various aspects of their personality over others as societal expectations vary from situation to situation.

Impression management is a conscious or subconscious effort to control or influence the perceptions of other people. Perhaps when the mother speaks with her son's soccer coach, she makes extra efforts to seem encouraging because she knows that is important to him. Or maybe she is naturally an encourager, and this situation provides the right environment for that part of her personality to be showcased, so it's a subconscious reaction to being in that context. Either way, the mother wants to be perceived in a particular way by the coach and features those qualities in her interactions.

The looking glass self is a term used to describe how people adjust their views of themselves based on the feedback they receive from society. Therefore, society acts as a kind of mirror, and people use this reflection to adjust their presentation of self. For example, a teacher who wants to seem relatable to her teenage students might bring in current music to act as a soundtrack to various scenes in Romeo and Juliet. If her students react negatively to her song choices, she might stop to ask them about current music trends and use their feedback to adjust future instruction. She may even begin to question whether she is still in touch with teenagers and/or their interests, therefore questioning herself based on their feedback.

Various settings and various social requirements affect the way people present themselves both consciously and subconsciously.

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