Social Psychological and Personality Science
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2012 3: 23 originally published online 9 May 2011Social Psychological and Personality Science
Lauren J. Human, Jeremy C. Biesanz, Kate L. Parisotto and Elizabeth W. Dunn
Your Best Self Helps Reveal Your True Self: Positive Self-Presentation Leads to More Accurate
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Your Best Self Helps Reveal Your
True Self: Positive Self-Presentation
Leads to More Accurate Personality
Lauren J. Human
, Jeremy C. Biesanz
, Kate L. Parisotto
Elizabeth W. Dunn
How does trying to make a positive impression on others impact the accuracy of impressions? In an experimental study, the
impact of positive self-presentation on the accuracy of impressions was examined by randomly assigning targets to either ‘‘put
their best face forward’’ or to a control condition with low self-presentation demands. First, self-presenters successfully elicited
more positive impressions from others, being viewed as more normative and better liked than those less motivated to self-
present. Importantly, self-presenters were also viewed with greater accuracy than control targets, being perceived more in line
with their self-reported distinctive personality traits and their IQ test scores. Mediational analyses were consistent with the
hypothesis that self-presenters were more engaging than controls, which in turn led these individuals to be viewed with greater
distinctive self–other agreement. In sum, positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting
one’s best self forward helps reveal one’s true self.
accuracy, self–other agreement, self-presentation, person perception, first impressions
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him
a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
Individuals attempt to make positive impressions on others
in a range of social situations, from job interviews to first dates.
Interestingly, the very situations where individuals try the hard-
est to impress are those where accurate impressions are most
critical to the perceiver. Although traditionally and intuitively,
self-presentation has ‘‘evoked images of superficiality rather
than substance, and deception rather than authenticity’’
(Schlenker & Pontari, 2000, p. 199), day-to-day positive self-
presentation may not hinder the accuracy of first impressions
of personality but may actually enhance it.
Self-presentation is the goal-directed process of controlling
information about the self to influence others’ impressions
(Baumeister, 1982; Goffman, 1959; Schlenker, 1980). In posi-
tive self-presentation, the aim is to make a good impression on
others, through emphasizing one’s positive traits and minimizing
one’s negative traits. In the current study, we are particularly
interested in positive self-presentation without deception, which
is likely typical of most day-to-day self-presentation attempts. In
fact, self-presentation is often described as involving the dual
goals of making a good impression while remaining authentic
(Leary, 1995; Schlenker & Pontari, 2000). This is likely due to
the potential negative interpersonal consequences of one’s
deception being discovered—for instance, people respond nega-
tively to those whose actions differ from their words (Schlenker
& Leary, 1982). Further, deceiving others may have negative
personal consequences to one’s sense of authenticity, which
seems to be a primary motive for many people (Swann, Pelham,
& Krull, 1989). Indeed, even in online social networks and
web pages, where people are undoubtedly self-presenting, they
provide others with valid cues to their personalities and allow
them to form accurate impressions (Back et al., 2010; Vazire
& Gosling, 2004). At the same time, self-presentation attempts
in first impressions are also often successful in that people are
able to elicit the desired impression from others (e.g., Murphy,
2007; Paulhus, 1998), indicating that accuracy and positive bias
may coexist when self-presentation occurs. This is possible
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC,
Lauren J. Human, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia,
2136 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4
Social Psychological and
ªThe Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission:
given that accuracy and positive bias can be independent in
personality impressions (e.g., Fletcher & Kerr, 2010; Funder &
However, not only is accuracy possible in the face of
self-presentation, we argue it is actually enhanced. Why would
self-presentation enhance accuracy in personality impressions?
According to Funder’s (1999) Realistic Accuracy Model
(RAM), there are four critical components to accurate impres-
sions: The target must make relevant cues available to others,
while the perceiver must detect and appropriately utilize these
cues. Given that we are investigating positive self-presentation
without deception, targets should still provide relevant, diag-
nostic cues to perceivers when self-presenting, enabling others
to form accurate impressions in the face of self-presentation.
However, we argue that self-presentation may actually enhance
accuracy through its impact on nonverbal behavior (DePaulo,
1992) and its corresponding impact on perceivers’ attention.
Specifically, positive self-presentation is likely to result in
more cheerful, engaging behaviors (e.g., Rosenfeld, 1966). In
turn, perceivers are likely to pay more attention to such plea-
sant individuals, just as they do with more attractive individuals
(Lorenzo, Biesanz, & Human, 2010). This enhanced motiva-
tion and attention should facilitate the cue detection and
utilization phases of RAM, thereby enhancing accuracy.
Indeed, greater motivation and information lead to more
accurate impressions (e.g., Biesanz & Human, 2010; Biesanz,
West, & Millevoi, 2007; Letzring, Wells, & Funder, 2006).
Thus, we predict that although self-presenters may not pro-
vide different verbal information than those less motivated
to self-present, they will behave in such a way so as to capture
more attention from others, and, as a result, be seen with more
There is preliminary empirical support that self-
presentational goals can enhance the accuracy of impression
formation. First, when motivated to advance their own agenda
during an interaction, targets, on average, are able to mitigate
perceivers’ experimentally induced negative bias (Smith,
Neuberg, Judice, & Biesanz, 1997). Thus, assuming self-
presenters are motivated to present both a positive and an
authentic picture to others, they may convey an even more
authentic picture of themselves to others than those who are
less explicitly motivated to do so. Second, there is evidence
that trait self-presenters, indexed by those who score highly
on the acting component of the Self-Monitoring Scale
(Snyder, 1987), agree more with close others about their char-
acteristics than those who score low on this scale (Cheek,
1982), suggesting that self-presenters may be viewed more
accurately by those who know them well. Finally, and most
directly, the specific self-presentational goal of appearing
smart does lead to more accurate impressions of an individu-
al’s intelligence (Murphy, 2007). However, whether more
general positive self-presentation leads to more accurate
broad personality impressions and the causal mechanisms
behind this process remain to be determined.
We will be examining two independent components of accu-
racy in the current study: distinctive and normative accuracy
(Biesanz, 2010; Furr, 2008), which are analogous to Cronbach’s
(1955) components of differential and stereotype accuracy,
respectively (for further details, see Biesanz, 2010). Distinctive
accuracy refers to understanding others’ unique profiles of per-
sonality traits, relative to the average person. Importantly, being
able to differentiate people from the average person implies an
ability to differentiate people from other specific people. As
such, distinctive accuracy can be interpreted both idiographi-
cally and nomothetically: It reflects both the extent to which per-
ceivers accurately discern the relative ordering traits within
people, for example, whether someone is more reliable than
sociable, and the extent to which perceivers accurately discern
differences between people on traits, for example, who is more
reliable than others (see Biesanz & Human, 2010, supplemental
appendix; Kenny & Winquist, 2001, pp. 275-278).
In the current study, we predominantly index distinctive
accuracy by examining distinctive self–other agreement across
the Big Five personality traits, using self-reported personality
traits as the accuracy benchmark for perceivers’ impressions.
Although the self may not always be the ideal accuracy criter-
ion (e.g., Vazire, 2010), self–other agreement is a common
index of accuracy (e.g., Funder & Colvin, 1997), and is quite
appropriate when the ‘‘other’’ is someone who has had minimal
access to information about the target person, as in the current
study. Nonetheless, because the trait of intelligence can be
measured more objectively than most other traits, we use stan-
dardized intelligence test scores in addition to self-reports as
accuracy criteria for the trait of intelligence. Overall, we use
the terms distinctive accuracy and distinctive self–other agree-
ment interchangeably, bearing in mind that the accuracy criter-
ion is generally the target’s self-reported personality traits, with
the exception of intelligence, for which we also have the stan-
dardized test scores.
Normative accuracy is the extent to which perceivers view
others as possessing a similar profile of traits as the average
person. Because the average person possesses a more positive
than negative personality profile (Borkenau & Zaltauskas,
2009; Edwards, 1957), being perceived normatively implies
being seen more positively. Given that the current study
involves an experimental manipulation, we can utilize norma-
tive accuracy as an index of positive bias: People randomly
assigned to self-present should not differ in their actual level
of similarity to the average person compared to those in the
control condition, so if perceivers see them more normatively,
then they are being viewed with positive bias. Nonetheless,
normative accuracy is a distinct concept from positivity, and
therefore we also index the positivity of impressions by exam-
ining whether self-presenters were viewed as more attractive
and better liked than those less motivated to self-present. In
sum, we hypothesize that self-presenters will be seen more
positively but also more accurately.
Positivity and distinctive accuracy can be independent
because positivity is reflected in the mean levels of personality
ratings while distinctive accuracy is reflected in the pattern of
ratings. For instance, a perceiver could rate an individual as
more sociable and reliable than he or she really is (reflecting
24 Social Psychological and Personality Science 3(1)
a positive impression), but still accurately determine that the
individual is more sociable than reliable (reflecting a distinc-
tively accurate impression). Equivalently, two self-presenters
could be seen as more sociable and reliable than they really are,
but also more accurately compared in terms of who is more
reliable than the other. Thus, greater distinctive accuracy would
enable perceivers to better differentiate among self-presenters,
understanding who might be better suited to a job where relia-
bility is critical, for instance.
In sum, we hypothesize that positive self-presentation
will enhance both the positivity and the accuracy of first impres-
sions. In the following experiment, we examined whether percei-
vers’ impressions of those who had been explicitly instructed to
self-present were more positive and accurate than impressions of
those in a self-presentation-minimizing control group. We then
examined the mechanisms behind these effects by examining
whether self-presenters were more attention-getting and enga-
ging than controls, and whether such engagement was in turn
associated with greater distinctive self–other agreement. Overall,
putting one’s best self forward is argued to capture others’
attention, thereby allowing others to more accurately see
one’s true self.
Participants. A total of 66 University of British Columbia
(UBC) undergraduates (51 females, 15 males; mean age ¼
21.89, SD ¼5.73) participated in exchange for extra course
credits. All participants viewed videotapes of 24 individuals
(targets) and then rated their personalities on an abbreviated
21-item version of the Big Five Inventory (BFI; John &
Srivastava, 1999) plus 3 items assessing intelligence: ‘‘Is intelli-
gent,’’ ‘‘Is bright,’’ and ‘‘Receives good grades.’’
also rated whether they thought the target was physically attrac-
tive and whether they liked each target on 1 (strongly disagree)
to 7 (strongly agree) scales. Roughly half of the targets were
instructed to self-present and half were given self-presentation
Targets. Target stimulus materials consisted of 24 UBC
undergraduates who participated in a study ostensibly investi-
gating the effects of ‘‘digital communication’’ in exchange for
extra course credits. Of the 24 targets, 11 targets (7 female,
4 males; mean age ¼21.6, SD ¼4.25) had been instructed to
self-present, while 13 (8 female, 5 male; mean age ¼20.14,
SD ¼2.03) were given self-presentation minimizing instruc-
tions. All targets first completed self-report personality ratings
on the BFI (John & Srivastava, 1999) plus the three intelligence
items described above and completed the Wonderlic Personnel
Test (WPT), a 50-item, 12-minute timed test of intelligence
(test–retest reliability ranges from .82 to .94; Wonderlic, Inc.,
2002). Next, targets were randomly assigned to either the control
or self-presentation condition. All targets were told that they
were in the ‘‘digital’’ condition and would be left alone in the lab
to answer several getting-acquainted questions (e.g., ‘‘describe
two or three interests’’) provided on cue cards to the webcam
on the computer. At this point, they were not aware their
video would be shown to others. This cover story was pro-
vided to minimize self-presentational concerns for control
participants. All participants were asked to ‘‘respond
honestly and thoughtfully to the questions,’’ but control targets
were instructed to:
Keep in mind that we are not interested in your answers per se,
we are more interested in how it feels for you to answer them in
While targets in the self-presentation condition were asked to:
Also try to make a good impression when you answer the
questions, as you would if you were speaking to a person you
just met or had just started dating. Don’t role-play, or pretend
you are somewhere where you are not, but simply try to put
your best face forward.
The instructions in the self-presentation condition were adapted
from previous research and have been shown to produce heigh-
tened self-presentation (Dunn, Biesanz, Human, & Finn, 2007).
The instructions in the control condition were meant to minimize
self-presentation attempts. Directly after answering all ques-
tions, targets rated their mood and completed multiple measures
of general adjustment (see online supplementary appendix found
at http://spp.sagepub.com/supplemental). Importantly, the con-
trol and self-presenting targets did not differ significantly from
one another in terms of personality, IQ, adjustment, mood, or
length of video clip, all |t’s| < 1.02.
Two trained research assistants also coded the videos and
transcripts for information quantity, indexed by the number
of words spoken, the number of topics mentioned, the number
of sentences, speech rate, the amount of time looking at the
camera, the amount of time looking at the camera while
speaking, and the number of pauses (interrater reliability intra-
class correlations [ICCs] ranged from .83 to 1.00). Overall,
self-presenters and controls did not differ on these indices of
information quantity, indicating that targets in both conditions
provided an equivalent amount of information.
Coders. A total of 99 coders (86 female, 13 male) were later
recruited to rate our proposed mediator of how engaging and
attention-getting the targets were in exchange for extra course
credit. These coders watched each video clip and then rated the
extent to which each target ‘‘managed to hold my attention
throughout most of the video clip’’ on a 1 (strongly disagree)
to 7 (strongly agree) scale. These coders also rated the quality
of the information targets provided and a separate group of
coders rated the targets’ behaviors, described in detail in the
online supplementary appendix.
Analytical approach. To examine whether target self-
presentation enhanced distinctive and normative accuracy, we
estimated a multilevel model utilizing R’s lme4 package (Bates
& Sarkar, 2007; R Development Core Team, 2009) following
the social accuracy modeling procedures outlined by Biesanz
(2010; for empirical examples, see Biesanz & Human, 2010;
Human et al. 25
Chan, Rogers, Parisotto, & Biesanz, 2010; Lorenzo et al., 2010).
Specifically, in the within-perceiver part of the model (Level
1), perceivers’ ratings of each target on each item were
predicted simultaneously from the mean self-report on each
item and the target self-reports on each item, after subtract-
ing the mean self-report for that item. In order to get a more
reliable estimate of the mean self-report on each item, the
means were based on a larger set of self-reports (n¼273) from
similar participants, also UBC undergraduate students
recruited from the UBC human subject pool. Items were not
reverse coded prior to analysis. The relationship between the
means of each item and perceiver ratings reflects normative
agreement—the extent to which perceiver ratings correspond
to the average self-report on these personality dimensions.
By partialling out the mean self-report for each item, the rela-
tionship between target self-reports and perceiver ratings
reflects distinctive self–other agreement—the extent to which
perceivers’ ratings map on to the targets’ distinctive self-
reported personality profiles.
To examine the effect of self-presentation on distinctive and
normative agreement, target experimental condition was dummy
coded (0 ¼Control;1¼Self-presentation) and included as a
moderator of distinctive and normative agreement slopes in the
Level 2 part of the model. The critical parameters are the change
in distinctive and normative agreement slopes as a function of
experimental condition. A positive, significant interaction
between condition and normative agreement would demonstrate
that self-presentation successfully elicits more favorable
impressions. More interestingly, a positive interaction between
condition and distinctive agreement would show that self-
presentation promotes more accurate impressions. Individual
differences among perceivers and targets in intercepts and levels
of accuracy, as well as dyadic effects when required, were
allowed to vary randomly in the model.
Accuracy of impressions. On average across condition,
perceivers viewed targets with significant levels of distinctive
self–other agreement, b¼.12, z¼3.48, p¼.0005. Impor-
tantly, as predicted, self-presenters were viewed with signifi-
cantly greater distinctive self–other agreement than controls,
change in b¼.14, d¼.71, interaction z¼2.22, p¼.026 (see
Figure 1). Note that this greater distinctive self–other agree-
ment indicates that self-presenters’ individual profiles of traits
(e.g., whether they reported being more sociable than reliable)
and that differences across self-presenters’ traits (e.g., who
reported being more sociable than others) were both more
accurately perceived relative to those in the control condition.
We were also able to examine distinctive accuracy in
impressions of a more objectively measured characteristic,
intelligence, utilizing targets’ WPT IQ test scores (M¼29.33,
SD ¼5.08) as predictors of perceivers’ ratings on the three intel-
ligence items (averaged to form a single composite intelligence
rating). On average, perceivers viewed targets’ IQ levels
accurately, b¼.03, z¼7.33, p< .001. Furthermore, in line
with our hypothesis and with the self–other agreement results,
perceivers were significantly more accurate in detecting self-
presenters’ than controls’ IQ scores, change in b¼.09,
interaction z¼2.18, d¼.89, p< .05. Thus, perceivers more
accurately detected self-presenting targets’ self-reported personal-
ity traits as well as their more objectively measured intelligence
Positivity of impressions. On average across conditions, targets
were viewed with significant normative accuracy, b¼.52,
z¼8.70, p< .0001. Importantly, as predicted, self-presenting
targets were seen as significantly more normative than control
targets, change in b¼.20, d¼.91, interaction z¼2.22, p¼.026.
Because self-presenting and control targets did not differ
significantly from one another in terms of personality traits, this
enhanced normative accuracy reflects positively biased
perceptions of self-presenters’ personalities. Further, although
self-presenters were not viewed as more physically attractive
by perceivers, b¼.04, z¼.14, ns, they were, controlling
for attractiveness, better liked than control targets, b¼.29,
z¼2.62, p¼.009. Thus, attempting to make a good impression
on others did successfully lead to more positive personality
impressions and greater liking.
Engagement/attention. As predicted, self-presenters were
rated as more engaging (M¼4.95, SD ¼.56) than
controls (M¼4.22, SD ¼.41), d¼.91, CI
t(21) ¼2.17, p¼.04. Further, being engaged was significantly
associated with greater normative accuracy, b¼.23, b¼.56,
z¼2.96, p¼.003, thus contributing to why self-presenters
were viewed more positively. Of primary interest, as illustrated
in Figure 2, being engaged was also significantly associated
with greater distinctive accuracy, b¼.13, b¼.53, z¼2.70,
p¼.008, resulting in a significant indirect effect, p¼.038 (test
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7
Figure 1. Distinctive self–other agreement and normative agreement
as a function of self-presentation experimental condition. Error bars
represent standard errors.
26 Social Psychological and Personality Science 3(1)
of the indirect effect calculated using the partial posterior
pvalue; see Biesanz, Falk, & Savalei, 2010). Thus, self-
presenters were more engaging than controls, which led them
to be viewed with greater distinctive accuracy. Of note, being
perceived as more engaging and attention-getting was signifi-
cantly associated with behaving in a more confident, involved,
and positive manner, lending initial insight into how self-
presenters manage to capture others’ attention (see online sup-
Rather than leading perceivers astray, positive self-presentation
appears to provide perceivers with a more positive but also
more accurate picture of what a target is like. Specifically, per-
ceivers saw self-presenters with greater distinctive self–other
agreement. That is, perceivers’ better discerned self-
presenting individuals’ self-reported distinctive patterning of
traits, such as whether they reported being more sociable than
reliable, and better discerned which self-presenters reported
being more sociable and reliable than others. Further, percei-
vers also more accurately perceived the intelligence of the
self-presenting targets, as assessed by a standardized test, than
that of the control targets. This latter effect replicates Murphy’s
(2007) finding that trying to appear smart leads to more accu-
rate impressions of intelligence, but extends it by demonstrat-
ing that more general positive self-presentation instructions
lead to the same result. Furthermore, the fact that we see paral-
lel effects with both self-reports and more objectively mea-
sured accuracy criteria lends support to the interpretation of
distinctive self–other agreement as accuracy.
Overall, when comparing two individuals who are self-
presenting, such as two interviewees or first dates, this greater
distinctive accuracy will help perceivers distinguish the two
candidates’ personality profiles, potentially enabling better deci-
sions about whom to hire or date. Interestingly, it is actually
more difficult to compare people who are not self-presenting,
as their differential standing on traits is likely to be harder to per-
ceive. One must be particularly cautious if comparing individu-
als in contexts where self-presentation demands vary, as one is
likely to form a less accurate, as well as less positive, impression
about the individual who is not self-presenting.
It remains unclear from the current research whether self-
presenters were seen with greater self–other agreement across
all traits equally. Although distinctive self–other agreement
can be interpreted both idiographically and nomothetically
(e.g., Biesanz & Human, 2010; Kenny & Winquist, 2001), it
still only informs us of the average level of accuracy across
traits. Thus, it is quite plausible that this effect is stronger for
some and weaker for other traits, perhaps those that are less
immediately observable for instance (e.g., Funder & Dobroth,
1987; Human & Biesanz, in press). Directly examining this
question, however, would require far more targets in order
to attain adequate power. Nonetheless, the fact that this effect
emerges on average across the 24 items assessed suggests that
it is unlikely to be driven by just one or two primary traits.
Thus, we can conclude that the general goal of positive self-
presentation leads to greater self–other agreement regarding
targets’ overall personalities as well as greater accuracy in
detecting their intelligence.
Why were self-presenters viewed more accurately than those
less motivated to self-present? Quite simply, self-presenting tar-
gets were more engaging than those who were self-presenting
less, which in turn led to more accurate impressions. Presum-
ably, perceivers pay more attention to more engaging individu-
als, detecting more cues and thus forming more accurate
impressions. Why were self-presenters more engaging? The
behavioral analyses described in the online supplementary
appendix provide initial insight, demonstrating that more
involved, positive, and confident behaviors are all associated
with how engaging an individual was perceived to be. Further,
behaving in a confident manner was also directly associated with
being seen with greater distinctive accuracy.
These findings may extend more broadly to understanding
why some people generally tend to be more accurately under-
stood than others. For instance, perhaps, individuals who gen-
erally tend to be seen more accurately, such as those who are
physically attractive (Lorenzo et al., 2010) and those who are
well adjusted (Human & Biesanz, in press) and possess more
positive personality traits, such as extraversion and agreeable-
ness (Colvin, 1993), are also seen more accurately because they
are more interpersonally engaging and confident. Indeed, if
engagement is the larger mechanism at play, positive self-
presentation may not be the only way to achieve accuracy—
one might also more directly focus on being engaging, try to
be more extraverted, or perhaps even try to make a negative
impression on others and as a result keep their attention. Each
of these routes, however, seem either equivalent (behaving like
a well-adjusted, engaging, or extraverted individual is likely to
result in very similar behaviors to self-presentation), more dif-
ficult (becoming more physically attractive to others is no easy
task), or may carry negative consequences (one might be seen
more accurately trying to make a bad impression, but they are
also likely to be seen more negatively). Thus, although engage-
ment may be the larger process at play here, positive self-
presentation seems like a desirable and easy way to achieve it.
One alternative explanation is that self-presenters were
viewed more accurately not because they were more engaging
Goal (0 = No, 1 = Yes)
d = .91* β = .53**
d = .35, ns
Figure 2. Mediational model consistent with self-presentation leading
targets to be perceived as more engaging, resulting in greater distinctive
Human et al. 27
but because control targets were completely disengaged from
the task, to the point where perceivers had insufficient informa-
tion to form accurate impressions about them. This is plausible
given that controls were explicitly told that we were ‘‘not con-
cerned with their answers per se’’ in order to minimize
self-presentation concerns. As such, self-presentation in our
control condition may not mirror natural levels of self-
presentation, which are likely to be higher in most situations
involving impression formation. Nonetheless, there are several
indications that controls were still at least moderately engaged
in the task. Specifically, as noted above, controls provided an
equivalent quantity of information to self-presenters—if con-
trols were completely disengaged, they are unlikely to have
spoken for as long, said as many words, and mentioned as many
topics as the more engaged self-presenters. Further, although
controls were rated as being significantly less engaging than
self-presenters, their average rating on the engagement item
was still above the midpoint of the 1 to 7 scale at 4.22. Thus,
although indirect, these results point to the likelihood that con-
trols were not completely disengaged, but that self-presenters
were more engaged, and thus held perceivers’ attention better
and allowed them to see their unique personality traits and
intelligence levels more clearly.
An implication of these findings is that if perceivers are
motivated enough to pay attention to targets, then control tar-
gets’ lower engagement might be overridden and accurate
impressions could still be formed. Given the relative equality
in information quantity and quality, it does seem likely that if
perceivers could have stayed more attentive when viewing the
control targets they could have formed more accurate impres-
sions. Therefore, in an interview situation or first date, where
perceivers are highly motivated, a lack of self-presentation may
not always interfere with accuracy. Nonetheless, it seems likely
that even in these highly motivated contexts, perceivers may
not be able to fully control their attention, eventually (or even
quite quickly) losing interest in their interaction partner and
accordingly forming less accurate impressions relative to those
who self-present and maintain their attention. Thus, while self-
presentation may not be necessary to forming accurate impres-
sions, the current study suggests it should certainly facilitate it
by enhancing and maintaining perceivers’ attention.
Why were self-presenters viewed more positively than
those not explicitly motivated to self-present? Once again,
being engaging played a role, as did behaving in a more
involved, confident, and to a lesser extent, positive, manner
(see online supplementary appendix). Thus, consistent with
previous research (e.g., Rosenfeld, 1966), when given the
general instructions to makeagoodimpressiononothers,
individuals are able to adjust their behaviors in order to elicit
the desired impression from others.
While it may be comforting for perceivers to know that self-
presentation does not render impressions inaccurate and instead
enhances accuracy, what are the implications for targets?
Although the primary goal of self-presentation is to foster a
positive impression in others, the enhanced accuracy may ben-
efit the target as well, as people enjoy being seen in line with
their self-views, even when negative (Swann et al., 1989).
Combine these interpersonal benefits with the intrapersonal ben-
efits of self-presentation, namely, the elevated mood that stems
from engaging in positive self-presentation (Dunn et al., 2007),
and it becomes clear that positive self-presentation is an adaptive
There are several likely boundary conditions to this effect of
self-presentation. First, we have only examined the general
self-presentational goal of making a positive impression while
maintaining authenticity in a relatively stress-free environment.
Self-presentation in more stressful situations or without the
constraints of honesty may not facilitate greater accuracy or
self–other agreement, nor might more specific self-
presentation goals, such as to be modest or be respected. Further,
as noted throughout, accuracy was primarily defined here as dis-
tinctive self–other agreement; although this is an accepted index
of realistic accuracy (Funder & Colvin, 1997) and our effect was
paralleled with a more objective measure of intelligence, it
remains to be seen whether the same pattern of results would
hold for alternative accuracy validation measures, such as close
informant reports. Nonetheless, positive self-presentation is
clearly not the deceptive tendency it may at first appear to be.
Instead, by capturing others’ attention, self-presentation facili-
tates more accurate first impressions.
Portions of the coding analyses were conducted as part of Kate L.
Parisotto’s undergraduate honors thesis under the supervision of
Jeremy C. Biesanz.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the
research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research
was supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
of Canada Grant SSHRC 410-2008-2643 to Jeremy C. Biesanz.
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Lauren J. Human received her BA and MA from the University of
British Columbia and is currently a PhD student in social and person-
ality psychology at the University of British Columbia.
Jeremy C. Biesanz received his BA from Cornell University, PhD
from Arizona State University, and is currently an assistant professor
at the University of British Columbia. His professional website is
Kate L. Parisotto received her BA (Hons.) from the University of
British Columbia and is currently studying law at the University of
Elizabeth W. Dunn received her BA from Harvard University, PhD
from the University of Virginia, and is currently an associate professor
at the University of British Columbia. Her professional website is
30 Social Psychological and Personality Science 3(1)