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TTC – Your Public Persona – Self-Presentation in Everyday Life

TTC – Your Public Persona – Self-Presentation in Everyday Life
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Human beings are social animals, and the impressions we make on others can critically impact the quality of our lives. Consequently, we exert a good deal of time and effort, both consciously and unconsciously, to shape other people’s ideas about who we are.

People form impressions of us-who we are and what we’re like-very quickly and, right or wrong, those impressions can determine significant aspects of our goals, how we interact with other people, and our intimate relationships. In a few short minutes, people assess our personality, interests, attitudes, and mood, taking into account everything from the content of our words to the style of our clothing, and much more. Sometimes, their assessments are accurate, other times less so, but the impressions others form of us significantly impact how they treat us and, therefore, our outcomes in life.

In Your Public Persona: Self-Presentation in Everyday Life, a 12-lecture course by Professor Mark Leary, Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, you will explore the variety of ways we manage our impressions. In this compelling course, you will learn about the behaviors we employ to control the impressions other people form of us-at work, at home, and in the world at large. We learn early and often-from parents, friends, classmates, and strangers-that, as Professor Leary says, “…how we fare in life depends, at least to an extent, on how other people view us.”

As you will learn, we try to manage the impressions that others have of us in order to pursue and achieve a wide range of goals-from getting a job or that coveted leadership role, to having a second date with someone or strengthening an important friendship, to being successful at work. You will come to better understand how we use self-presentational tactics, and why we may even present ourselves negatively-as aggressive or incompetent or ill-if such impressions serve our larger objectives. And we don’t just self-present occasionally. As Professor Leary explains, all of us do it on an ongoing basis. It is little wonder that, with so much on the line, impression management is a critically important aspect of human behavior.

Public Personas and Private Identities

Some people believe that managing the way we appear to others is inherently duplicitous or dishonest, and instead we should just “be ourselves.” But, many times, we are trying only to make certain that those we interact with know about aspects of ourselves that might not be immediately apparent, yet are significant to understanding who we are. As Professor Leary explains, it is possible to be both tactical and honest in how we present ourselves. Making certain that your boss (or your spouse) knows that you are working hard doesn’t mean that you aren’t; it just means that you understand the importance of his or her impression of you.

As Professor Leary describes, how we manage impressions is largely determined by two sets of factors: external circumstance and internal psychology. Although we do not all engage in impression management in the same ways-either because circumstances are unique or because we are-everyone tends to use the same general approaches. Rather than being a sign of dishonesty or vanity, self-presentation is a normal, natural behavior that is essential to our well-being.

Disasters, Dilemmas, and the Dangers of Self-Presentation

We all engage in self-presentation, but what happens when our efforts fail? Have you ever tripped over your own feet, or blurted out something terribly inappropriate, or spilled your drink, or otherwise embarrassed yourself? Everyone has. Most of us have also experienced a secret being revealed, friends or partners behaving badly, and even intentional humiliation at the hands of a bully.

The embarrassment of self-presentation gone wrong is very real. Although most of the bad impressions we make are easily remedied, what can we do about undesired impressions at work, at home, or in the public eye that are more difficult to fix? Follow Professor Leary as he walks you through the ways in which our best efforts to make desired impressions can go awry in large and small ways, the emotional and practical impact of these events, and the methods we can employ to mitigate the damage and get back on track.

At times, self-presentation can have a dark side. As Professor Leary notes, accidents are the number one killer of Americans under age 45, and a compelling argument can be made for the critical role that impression management plays in dangerous behavior. Sometimes, the human desire to be seen-or not seen-in a certain way can be a powerful and risky motivator. Professor Leary reviews a number of studies that speak to these dangers. The sobering highlights include people who admit to:

Driving too fast or performing daredevil stunts to look daring or cool;
Fighting to appear brave or tough;
Declining safety equipment (such as helmets, goggles, and mouth guards) or sanitary precautions to avoid looking fearful or neurotic;
Resisting the use of canes or other assistive devices to avoid the impression of age or illness;
Risking skin cancer by tanning to appear healthy and leisured;
Failing to use birth control to avoid the appearance of promiscuity or preparation; and
Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or using other drugs to fit in or make an impression.

Although most of these types of behaviors are often more common in youth, many of us engage in risky behavior without necessarily realizing why we may be seeking attention or validation. In the end, no one is immune to the influence of social pressure. The desire to make an impression can lead people to behave in ways that are harmful, both to themselves and to others. Knowledge of self-presentation and impression management may be our best defense.

Insight into Who We Really Are

A critical examination of the nature of self-presentation tells us more than just what we do and why; it offers fundamental insight into who we really are. Instead of maintaining that we possess an internally consistent, core “self,” the study of self-presentation reveals that human psychology is much more complex-so much so that the fact we convey a variety of images of ourselves to other people is not surprising. Whether you begin the course untroubled by the fact that people regularly impression-manage, or believe instead that everyone should simply “be themselves,” you will leave convinced that self-presentation is unavoidable and sometimes even desirable. As Professor Leary notes, “None of us could achieve our goals, or even get along with each other, if we didn’t care what other people thought of us.”

With wry humor and a talent for distilling difficult concepts into everyday language, Professor Leary brings you to the forefront of behavioral research on self-presentation. After more than 40 years of experience in psychology and neuroscience, he makes this fascinating topic accessible to audiences everywhere. Step up to a thought-provoking journey into the workings of the human social mind, filled with self-discovery and insights into the other people in your life.

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