How Useful Is Self-Monitoring?

By Patricia Oelze

Updated January 01, 2019

Reviewer Heather Cashell


Human beings have all sorts of emotions. We are constantly acting and reacting to the things around us. Self-monitoring is when we are in control of those behaviors. People who self-monitor tend to be very aware of how others perceive their actions and often adjust their actions accordingly to create the desired public appearance they want to put forward. Some personality types are more likely to use this behavior because they feel the need to control their actions tightly. These are known as high self-monitors while others who are more spontaneous are referred to as low self-monitors.

There are three characteristics needed for a person to be considered as someone who self-monitors - a concern for society around themselves, a sensitivity to the cues society uses, and the ability to control behaviors and actions in response to those. To some degree, we all self-monitor at times to make sure we're doing what everyone else is or what we're supposed to. You may be asked to self-monitor by a therapist for a short period to check for triggers with certain behaviors or to see if you have issues expressing yourself in different situations.

What Is Self-Monitoring?

The self-monitoring scale was developed by psychologist Mark Snyder in 1974. It uses the answers from 25 questions to determine how a person's thought process affects their actions based on self-monitoring within a given situation. The answers are simply true or false and reflect the process high self-monitors use as a personal checklist. It is possible to be both a high and low self-monitor at the same time. Some people are only self-monitors in high-stress situations like at work or social gatherings while when they're in a relaxed situation at home or with friends they may be low self-monitors simply because they feel comfortable being themselves.

Self Monitoring Controversy

Self-monitoring as a psychological behavior has the potential to be harmful. The theory behind it tends to be quite confusing as many of the factors that are used to define self-monitoring can be seen in so many different patients along a spectrum of diagnoses. Some also argue that since self-monitoring is so concerned with the outer world many outside factors, such as physical location, will also influence a person's monitoring habits. By being so wrapped up in what everyone else is doing psychologists hypothesize that you can't help but be affected in your behaviors and that it is far more useful for someone to be monitored in those situations when they're not aware of it to find their true behaviors.

What Type Of People Self-Monitor?

Research has shown that people who are high self-monitors tend to be more ambitious, and are the "social butterflies" who can adapt to any situation. People like this are more likely to be in multiple roles as leaders since they can span different groups and they're more likely to be found at the top of the corporate ladder in positions like HR, CEOs or consultants. These people are good at conflict resolution and acting as mediators because they have the unique ability to see all sides of an argument without getting involved. They're also more likely to be able to ingratiate themselves with others by recognizing and then playing favorably to the important people that can help them move up - and we've all met someone like that!

Another selection of people who self-monitor is those who have issues with hypervigilance. People with conditions that cause them to be very aware of everything around them or those who deal with social anxiety often have an intense need to look around them and take everything in before comparing themselves to it. People who are high self-monitors also tend to look for people who they can mirror in positions they want to emulate rather than those they have a genuine connection with. For example, when dating, the high self-monitor is more likely to choose someone with a high social status over someone they actually connect with.


On the other hand, people who don't self-monitor are often more likely to show you their true self and tend to be the same person in every situation even if social expectations are different. These are the type of people who say that they "just can't change who they are" and need to be accepted for that.

Is Self-Monitoring Important?

While it can be difficult to train yourself to become a high self-monitor if you're not naturally inclined that way it's not impossible. Being able to recognize your self-monitoring style, and consciously make a choice to react a certain way will give the same results most of the time. In some situations, it is important to self-monitor which is why if the behavior isn't something you do naturally you may want to practice or learn.

For example, if you're in an important situation that you're not familiar with and you want to make sure your behavior is in line with everyone else or if you need to know more about your behaviors to tell your therapists. Another situation when self-monitoring is important is when you're finding certain behaviors are problematic. By self-monitoring you can catch your triggers, the behavior, and if a certain social situation might be setting you off.

When Is It Not Useful?

Self-monitoring can be used by people to self-diagnose. The problem with this is that because you're not a professional it's hard to know you're making the right diagnosis. A self-monitoring checklist is a useful tool to bring to a professional since it will help them understand your behaviors, but it shouldn't be an excuse to say that you're managing a problem just because you're consciously aware of it.

Another time self-monitoring isn't useful is if you have issues with social anxiety. By being hyper-vigilant about your behavior, you may find that you're worse in those behaviors because you're more aware of everyone around you and how they react.


Self Monitoring Checklist

Those who self-monitor often have an internal checklist which they use to measure their behaviors against others. They're frequently used in schools and for small children who need to learn behaviors, but they are also used in adults or people with psychological dysfunctions which prevent them creating those actions normally.

The difference with an internal self-monitoring checklist is that the person doing it is usually thinking things like "am I showing enough emotion?" or "should I be more sad about what is being said" because they need to evaluate the correct response to the situation. An external checklist in comparison would be one used to compare behaviors such as making eye contact or asking questions.

Does It Work?

The short answer is maybe. For individuals who struggle to connect with others or to display emotions correctly self-monitoring is the ideal way of making sure they're connecting properly. While the emphasis should be on persuading them to form their own reactions knowing what is expected at a given moment can be useful in figuring out why they aren't responding the same way. The majority of people don't realize that their actions affect others around them and some lifestyle coaches are starting to notice that people who don't self-monitor are less likely to be successful.

What Is Self-Monitoring For?

Everyone can choose to use self-monitoring behavior. If you can choose to do it consciously in situations where you might actually need to keep a close eye on how people around you are reacting, then you may have an advantage over your peers in the same situations. In business, self-monitoring would be best used for any situation where you have to size up the competition. In a self-diagnosis situation self-monitoring can help you determine any symptoms or behaviors so you can pass them on to a doctor.

Many have no real idea what their behaviors or triggers are so self-monitoring can help you gather that information first before meeting with a professional. Self-monitoring is simply a way of noticing your behaviors and comparing them to those around you. It should be used when you have chronic behaviors when you're overly talkative when you're struggling to be organized, when your attention or impulse control is poor, and when you find you're having difficulty staying on a task.



Is it useful? It really depends on what you're trying to use it for. As a tool in business Self-monitoring can be especially useful, as a tool for psychological evaluation, it also seems to have it's used. If you're trying to self-diagnose then self-monitoring is a good start because it will give you insight into the behaviors that you can then share with a professional. While self-diagnosis is a start, if you're finding you have trouble empathizing with others, or feeling like you're apart it may be worth being properly diagnosed. The only person who can give you such a diagnosis is a psychologist or psychiatrist. If you don't have one yet, head over to BetterHelp and search for someone that will work with you.

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