Think Twice before You Post: The Impact of Online Self-Presentation on the Self-Concept
161 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2012
Date Written: July 31, 2012
The present work investigates the impact of online self-presentation on the self-concept. Online self-presentation is the goal-directed activity of publishing information on the Internet in order to influence the impressions formed by an online community about oneself. Web-based applications such as personal homepages, blogs, and social network sites facilitate online self- presentation. Prior studies found that the content of one’s online self-presentation is influenced by various internal and external demands. Moreover, research has shown that self-presentation in non-mediated, face-to-face environments, can change one’s self-concept. In this context, the present work addresses the following questions: How does the way one presents oneself online affect one’s self-concept? Under what circumstances is a person’s online self-presentation likely to lead to a self-concept change? What are the potential consequences of an altered self-concept? I develop a theoretical model based on self-identification theory, which suggests that self-presentation impacts the self-concept through a process of inference and spreading memory activation. I propose that the impact of online self-presentation on the self-concept is moderated by system factors (i.e. visibility, identifiability, and restrictiveness), online community factors (i.e. size and importance), and user factors (i.e. self-monitoring and self-concept clarity).
In three sequential experiments (total N = 969), I test the proposed relationships by inducing participants to present themselves online as a risk-seeker while manipulating system and online community factors. Subsequently, I measure participants’ risk self-concept using self-report, behavioral, and social perception measures. Results suggest that online self-presentation can change one’s domain-specific self-concept -- an outcome referred to as carryover effect -- if people are led to recall and share specific memories relating to a particular content domain. Moreover, I found that system, online community, and user factors do not significantly influence the carryover effect. Lastly, my findings suggest that the self-concept has domain-specific consequences for one’s behavior as well as for one’s social perception. However, these consequences are greatly influenced by the characteristics of a given sample. Given the nascent stream of research on online self-presentation, the present work makes significant theoretical and practical contributions while opening multiple avenues for future research.
Keywords: Carryover Effect, Online Self-Presentation, Risk Attitude, Self-Concept, Social Media, Social Perception
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