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Presentation of Self: Construction and Preservation of Identity

  • Aug 28, 2013 · 7:00 PM

The impetus for this topic came from an interest in exploring honesty in on-line dating.  The following framework for discussion is offered to allow a broader look at contexts in which relationships grow and endure and the motivations and behaviors that shape the relationships.  The framework consists of identity, presentation, and information management (aka deception) theories.

It should be noted that we briefly explored information management theory in a previous session on of political speech (reproduced below).


A.  Who am I?

…. 1)  Who have I been?

…. 2)  Who am I now?

…. 3)  Who do I want to be?

…. 4)  Who do I think I am/was?

…. 5)  Virtual identities – avatars in 2nd Life; multiple Facebook identities

B.  In existential terms (alterity theory)

…. 1)  Relationships

……... a) with self (self awareness, other self)

……... b) with family/friends (oneself as other)

….….. c) with society (non-self)

…. 2)  Becoming

……..  a} passively – depends on developing  social skills and role models

……..  b) actively – How to win friends and influence people

C.  Plato’s terms - Plato's tripartite theory of soul is a theory of psyche (psychology) proposed in The Republic. In it, Plato argues that the soul is composed of three parts: The logical, the spirited, and the appetitive. These three parts of the soul also correspond to the three classes of a just society.  Individual justice consists in maintaining these three parts in the correct hierarchy, where the logical part (aided by spirited) rules, and the appetitive obeys.

D.  Groups (including groups of two)

…. 1)  Affiliations

…. 2)  Membership (category membership)

…. 3)  Outsider


A.  Definition of the situation

…. 1)  Purpose/goals/ends/intentions/individual projects

…. 2)  Protocols/styles/sequences

…. 3)  Allowable content, including tact

B.  Performance

…. 1)  Expression of an identity

……... a) intentional – conscious – symbols yield message given

……... b) unintentional – subconscious - demeanor and actions yield message given off

…. 2)  Calling forth a response; asking to be believed

…. 3)  Perceiving and meeting expectations; playing to the audience

Information Management Theories

1. Myth Busting – Study results that belie the conventional wisdom and underlie the theories.
.    a. Deception is cognitive, casual, ubiquitous, and successful.
.    b. Contrary to popular belief that most deceptive communication is carefully constructed with foresight and planning. There appears to be no more cognitive load for deceptive speech than for truthful speech.
.    c. Deception has been found to be casual and ubiquitous. In normal close personal conversations 38% of the communication is deceptive in some respect. The watchword is, “Preserve the relationship!” In general, deception rate is more like 33% and people average two lies per day. Deception appears to be a potentially efficient means for achieving desired end state and can be viewed in some sense as a problem-solving activity.
.    d. In spite of what the crime TV shows portray, humans are poor detectors of deception.
.    e. Humans are conditioned to accept messages as true; deception is detected in post-processing.
.    f. Humans presume additional false information, as part of filling in the parts that seem missing. Self-deception may be a part of this, and could include #4.
.    g. As usual, psycho-social (human behavior) research suffers from ecological and repeatability difficulties.

2. Intentional Systems - IS (DC Dennett) -- Messaging is about embedding beliefs, sometimes false beliefs.

3. Information Manipulation Theory - IMT (SA McCornack)
.    a. Grice’s Cooperative Principle – Make your contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.
.    b. Dimensions along which people routinely manipulate information in cooperative communication messages:
.         i. Quantity violations – Producing messages that are less informative than is required by the situation. Article suggests this is the most common method used…preserve the relationship.
.         ii. Quality violations – Presenting false information with the purpose of embedding false beliefs.
.        iii. Relation violations – Presenting messages that are irrelevant, given the preceding talk. Creating messages that call into question the validity of the previous message of the opponent or changing the subject can fall in this category. A good offense can be better than a good defense. Article suggested that this is the rarest method used because it is difficult to make such manipulations covert. Listener is expecting one thing but gets another.
.       iv. Manner violations – Presenting messages that are vague or ambiguous [or technical]. Presenter can hope that listener will be baffled, so as to create enough self doubt in him/her to head off follow-up questions.
.       v. Note that these can be used in combination.

4. Interpersonal Deception Theory - IDT (JK Burgoon & DB Buller)
.     a. General. Focuses on communications perspective (natural tendencies to match conversational patterns), emphasizing interactivity, goals, expectations, feedback, and adaptation.
.    b. Core assumptions:
.         i. Communication, whether truthful or deceptive, is intended to satisfy a host of goals, such as:
.             a) Presenting oneself favorably to others.
.             b) Managing expression of feelings and emotions in a socially acceptable fashion.
.             c) Maintaining relational harmony.
.             d) Easing conversational flow.
.             e) Persuading others to accept one’s ideas and proposals.
.         ii. Sender and receiver may have different goals, thus requiring an adaptive approach, employing various information management tactics to avoid detection and maintain credibility. IDT posits that there is an increased cognitive load when deceiving; however, with practice, these adaptations may become routinized and carried out at lower levels of cognition.
.        iii. Receivers are active participants in deceptive episodes and display adaptive behavior as suspicions wax and wane.
.    c. Twenty-one Propositions – See: Interpersonal Deception Theory.
.         i. Prop 1&2 – Context (interactivity of media and demands of the conversational task) and relational features (familiarity and relationship valence).
.         ii. Prop 2&3 – Expectations of truthfulness and their impact on the evaluation of truthfulness in the conversation.
.        iii. Prop 5-10 – Deceivers engage in strategic (intentional) activities (managing content, non-verbal behaviors, and overall image) and nonstrategic (unintentional) activity (arousal, negative or dampened affect, depressed involvement, and impaired speech). Interactivity, self-interest, expectations of truthfulness, familiarity, and communication skill affect the mix of strategic vs. nonstrategic activities.
.       iv. Prop 11-14 – Deception detection.
.        v. Prop 15-17 – Suspicion detection.
.       vi. Prop 18&19 – Deception-suspicion dynamics.
.       vii. Prop 20&21 – Final judgments.


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  • Denis Murray S.

    nice discussion; interesting group

    August 28, 2013

  • Craig Y.

    Do we behave more according to our intellect or emotions, behave more according to myself or what other people want me to be? The latter seems to do well on the dating scene?

    August 23, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Erving Goffman wrote a book in 1959 entitled The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life using a dramaturgical metaphor, following in the footsteps of Shakespeare's famous line "All the world's a stage...". It is a sociological classic though somewhat dated in that he stipulates the definition of interaction as "face-to-face" behavior. If the definition is expanded to include all intersubjective behavior, including the Internet, it is provocative reading. If you Google the title, you get some 4 million refs (including one on Wikipedia) that provide interpretations of Goffman's thesis.

    August 20, 2013

  • Joel B.

    as usual i have some references. "Authenticity" or "be honest with oneself" or shed one's "acts" is imho a necessary (and maybe sufficient) condition to be honest with others. See for a start. Erich Fromm, Werner Erhard, Nietzsche, many others. For me the best expression of this is "live truth." Like everything that's important, it's simple. And it works.

    August 19, 2013

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