Mark Snyde’s theory of self-observation r , which this author developed together with his famous Scale of Self-observation, tries to explain how the degree to which we adapt our behaviour to the social context is related in aspects such as personality or patterns of social interaction.

In this article we will analyze the main aspects of the theory of self-monitoring and the scale that Snyder created to evaluate this construct. We will also briefly explain the applications of this model in areas such as personality psychology, organizational psychology, and even anthropology.

The theory of self-observation or self-monitoring

Social psychologist Mark Snyder proposed in the 1970s the concept of self-observation, which is often also translated literally as “self-monitoring”. These terms refer to the degree to which we supervise and control our behavior and the image of ourselves that we project in social situations.

By completing the Self-Observation Scale developed by Snyder himself or other similar self-report instruments, a score can be obtained relative to the level at which an individual monitors his behavior. Relevant differences have been identified between the group of people with high self-observation scores and those with low scores.

In this sense self-observation can be considered a personality trait that would refer to a person’s ability or preference to adapt behaviour to the social context in which he/she finds him/herself. It is, therefore, a term very close to “spontaneity”, although specific to situations of social interaction.

Influence of self-observation on personality

People who score high in self-monitoring tests exercise strong control over their external behaviour and the image of themselves that they project socially; more specifically, they adapt to the characteristics of the interaction situation and the interlocutors . The self-image of these people does not always correspond to their behaviour.

Those who monitor their behavior a lot usually conceive social situations from a pragmatic point of view, giving great importance to objectives such as positive feedback or the transmission of an admirable personal image. Snyder describes this trait as desirable, and somewhat pathologizes low self-monitoring.

On the contrary, those with a low level of self-observation try to maintain coherence between the vision they have of themselves and the one they project to others . Thus, they show consistent social patterns, tend to express their true thoughts and are not constantly concerned about how they can be evaluated.

According to Snyder and other authors, people with low self-observation are more prone to anxiety, depression, anger , aggression, low self-esteem, isolation, guilt feelings, intransigence towards others or difficulties in maintaining a job. Many of these aspects would be associated with social rejection.

Mark Snyder’s Self-Observation Scale

In 1974, the Snyder Self-Observation Scale, a self-reporting instrument that evaluates the degree of self-monitoring, was introduced. This test originally consisted of 25 items , corresponding with statements associated with the facets of self-observation; later the number was reduced to 18 and the psychometric properties improved.

Using Snyder’s original scale, scores between 0 and 8 are considered low, while scores between 13 and 25 are high. Intermediate scores (between 9 and 12) would indicate an average degree of self-observation .

Some examples of items are “I’m not always the person I seem to be,” “I laugh more when I’m watching a comedy with other people than if I’m alone,” or “I’m rarely the center of attention in groups. These phrases should be answered as true or false; some of them score positively, while others score negatively.

Various factor analyses carried out in the 1980s, a time when the Snyder Scale was especially popular, suggested that self-observation would not be a unitary construct, but would be composed of three independent factors: extraversion, orientation towards others and the degree to which one acts or represents social roles.

Applications and findings of this psychological model

One of the most common applications of Snyder’s theory of self-observation has been in the field of occupational or organizational psychology. Although initially we tried to defend that people who are high in self-monitoring are better at a professional level , the review of the available literature makes it difficult to support this claim.

Studies reveal that those who score high on the Snyder Scale tend to have more sexual partners (especially without a particular emotional attachment), to be unfaithful more often, and to prioritize sexual attractiveness. In contrast, for people who are low in self-monitoring, personality tends to be more important.

There is another interesting finding that derives from Snyder’s theory and scale and relates to anthropology. According to a study by Gudykunst and collaborators (1989), the level of self-monitoring depends partly on culture; thus, while individualistic societies favour high levels , in collectivist societies the opposite is true.

Bibliographic references:

  • Gudykunst, W. B., Gao, G., Nishida, T., Bond, M. H., Leung, K. & Wang, G. (1989). A Cross-cultural Comparison Of Self-monitoring. Communication Research Reports, 6(1): 7-12.
  • Snyder, M. (1974). Self-monitoring of expressive behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 30(4): 526.