Do you consider yourself a social chameleon? Or are you the kind of person who embodies the saying “what you see is what you get”?
It all depends on how much you self-monitor.
Self-monitoring is when people pay attention to their own behavior and modify it according to the particular social context they find themselves in.
Self-monitoring is an incredibly common practice. It’s a rare person who never, ever self-monitors. Who basically acts the same way in all situations, regardless of how it comes across.
Most people self-monitor from time to time. However, people do vary in their level of self-monitoring. High self-monitors can be prone to doing it more often and/or making larger adjustments to their behavior patterns than low self-monitors.
I Am a High Self-Monitor
I myself am a high self-monitor, a social chameleon. Now, I am always at my core my authentic self, and I try not to actively be someone I’m not. However, I do have a tendency to de-emphasize or not show parts of myself that don’t fit the current social situation, especially if I’m in an environment that seems particularly punishing (job interview, giving a presentation in a corporate environment, meeting a romantic partner’s family, etc.).
In general, I keep things to myself if I feel like they wouldn’t be well received in the context I’m in.
Because of this, people often think I’m a prude or introverted until they get to know me (when in reality, I’m very open minded and extroverted).
As someone who is naturally quite a high self-monitor, it was quite challenging at first for me to write in public for a large audience. It felt weird, since I don’t ever know who exactly is reading. But over time I’ve managed to find peace with it. And writing has become the place where I arguably self-monitor the least, where I just act like unfiltered me.
Fake and Shady or Self-Protective?
In my everyday life, I’ve often witnessed low-monitoring folks call others “fake” or “two-faced” for being higher self-monitors than they are, not realizing that the person standing next to them (me) is a high self-monitor… just not in a way that’s always evident (since I’m authentic, just generally restrained until I know someone can handle the full monty version of me).
And even though those comments weren’t directed at me, I would always know that I did what some other person was being criticized for and would find myself often wondering: Am I a fake person? Am I bad? Shady?
Is there something disingenuous or deceptive about me?
Growing Up in a Rural Area When You Aren’t Straight
It’s an easy trap to fall into. Equating self-monitoring with shadiness, fakeness, a lack of authenticity.
But it’s an equivalence that’s sloppy at best.
Because the reality is that there are a plethora of different reasons why a person self-monitors — many of them quite understandable.
And one study really hit home for me, as a bisexual person who grew up in a small Maine town. Researchers found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who grew up in rural areas are particularly prone to self-monitoring as adults.
This is because the stigma for having those sexual orientations is particularly strong in rural areas. So they learned how to hide those aspects of themselves, which led to a tendency to hide other sides of themselves as well.
Interestingly, the researchers found that those same patterns of higher self-monitoring were not found in gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals who grew up in metropolitan areas, a variant they explain by a higher level of tolerance regarding sexual differences in the city.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.