What Is Self-Monitoring?

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What Is Self-Monitoring?

Self-monitoring is a personality trait that involves the ability to monitor and regulate self-presentations, emotions, and behaviors in response to social environments and situations.

It involves being aware of your behavior and the impact it has on your environment. It also refers to your ability to modify your behaviors in response to environmental, situational, or social variables.

People who are high in self-monitoring are more likely to change their behavior in order to adapt or conform to the situation. Those who are low in self-monitoring tend to behave in accordance with their own internal needs and feelings.

Signs

The concept of self-monitoring was introduced by psychologist Mark Snyder during the 1970s. He also developed a self-report scale designed to determine how self-monitoring influenced a person's behaviors in different situations.

Some signs of self-monitoring include:

  • Saying things at social gatherings to garner attention or approval from others
  • Putting on a show to entertain others
  • Finding it easy to imitate the behaviors of others
  • Looking at other people in social situations to figure out what to do
  • Seeing advice from other people about what to think, say, wear, or do
  • Changing opinions to win the favor of others
  • Adopting different behaviors depending on the people or situation

While people tend to be high or low self-monitoring in general, self-monitoring may also vary depending on the situation. For example, some people may monitor themselves more during social situations or during periods of high stress.

Levels of self-monitoring may decline when people are in situations where they feel more comfortable such as at home or with friends and family.

Types

Self-monitoring can be generally divided into two key types depending on the purpose that it serves. These are:

  • Acquisitive: This type of self-monitoring is to acquire attention and approval from others. It involves assessing the reactions of others and altering behavior in a way designed to help the person fit in or to garner attention, status, or power.
  • Protective: This type of self-monitoring is intended to protect the individual from the disapproval of others. People will monitor the situation and reactions and then modify their own behavior in a way that will be approved by the group. The goal of this is to prevent embarrassment and rejection by others.

Uses

Self-monitoring is something that people tend to do naturally, but it is also something that you can work on applying to different situations. Some ways that it may be useful include:

  • Changing a specific behavior
  • Improving self-awareness
  • Developing greater awareness of other people
  • Improving interpersonal skills
  • Gauging the impact of your behavior on a situation
  • Figuring out how to behave in a competitive environment
  • Noticing symptoms that may require treatment

For example, learning how to self-monitor can help you notice things about your own behavior that you weren't aware of before. If these behaviors seem to be unusual or create problems in your life, you might discuss them with your doctor or therapist.

Research suggests that self-monitoring interventions can be effective for targeting and changing behaviors. One study, for example, found that self-monitoring could be used to help reduce sedentary behavior in adults. Self-monitoring can also be useful for improving emotional awareness in people with depression.

Impact of Self-Monitoring

Self-monitoring can affect people in a variety of ways. For people who have an extraverted personality, monitoring the self serves as a way to interact with others and adapt to different social situations. People who use self-monitoring in this way are often well-liked and able to get along well with a wide variety of people.

In other cases, people may self-monitor because of social anxiety. Because they are uncomfortable in social settings, they pay a great deal of attention to how others are acting as well as how they think others may see them. 

This hypervigilance can sometimes make it difficult for people to relax and be themselves when interacting with others and can often increase the amount of anxiety the person is feeling.

Excessive self-monitoring means that people with social anxiety feel even more self-conscious about their behaviors in social settings.

It is important to note that whether self-monitoring is considered advantageous or detrimental may depend on the situation.

High-self monitors are good at adapting to the situation and getting along with others. In some contexts, they might be seen as being "fake," but it is also a social skill that can promote interpersonal harmony.

Low self-monitoring means that people are less likely to change their behavior to fit in. This can be seen as combative or even antisocial in some contexts. However, it can also be a sign of high individualism and resistance to conformity in others.

Using Self-Monitoring to Change Behavior

Researchers suggest that the self-awareness that is developed during self-monitoring is a critical skill for initiating and maintaining behavior change.

If you want to use self-monitoring to change your behaviors, there are things that you can do to identify, measure, and evaluate your own behaviors. Sometimes this is something you might choose to do informally, but in other cases, you might actually want to use a written checklist to help you monitor and track these behaviors.

In order to do this, you should:

  • Identify a target behavior: Pick a specific behavior that you want to monitor and change. Examples of things you might self-monitor include behaviors related to health, mood, exercise, eating habits, or social activities. 
  • Choose a way to record behaviors: Mentally noting these behaviors is one way to increase awareness, but writing them down can also be useful. This might involve tracking frequency, duration, or intensity on a piece of paper or on a mobile device app.
  • Set a schedule: Continuous self-monitoring is possible in some cases, but it may be more realistic to set a schedule where you check in with yourself and write down your measures for that time period. This might involve writing it down after a specific activity or at regular intervals throughout the day.

You might also find it helpful to use positive reinforcement to help encourage behavior change. As self-monitoring improves and the target behavior changes, reward yourself for a job well done.

The good news is that as you get more skilled at observing your own behaviors, you can gradually decrease your use of these self-monitoring techniques. Once learned, you may find that you can maintain these behaviors on your own without measuring and rewarding your actions.

A Word From Verywell

Self-monitoring can have both benefits and drawbacks depending upon the situation and how it is used. It may be useful if you want to become more aware of a behavior so you can work to change it. In other instances, it may cause problems if it contributes to feelings of self-consciousness and anxiety.

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7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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