Age Influences Perception of Self-Presentation

Summary: Age significantly impacts how self-presentation, or manipulating others’ evaluations of oneself, is perceived, particularly in the context of the protagonist’s usual performance. Their study, involving elementary school children and adults, revealed that perceptions of honesty, modesty, and character are nuanced by the protagonist’s typical behavior, suggesting that false statements are viewed more negatively as children grow older. This nuanced understanding of self-presentation could inform better guidance for children in social evaluations and judgments.

Key Facts:

  1. Impact of Usual Performance: The study highlights that evaluations of self-presentation are influenced by the protagonist’s usual performance, with false modesty or falsehood perceived differently based on past behaviors.
  2. Age-Related Development: Findings suggest a significant development in the perception of self-presentation from around age 7 to 10, with older children and adults making more nuanced judgments about character and competence.
  3. Cultural and Performance Context Considerations: The study, conducted with Japanese participants, also points to the need for further research considering different cultural contexts and situations of performance (good or bad).

Source: Kobe University

When people present themselves as capable or humble, the way this influences other people’s evaluations of one’s true ability and character depends on one’s usual performance. Kobe University and University of Sussex researchers thus add an important factor in our understanding of how the relationship between self-presentation and perception develops with age.

People want to be liked. Amongst the many ways of achieving this, making statements about oneself to manipulate other people’s evaluation is called “self-presentation.”

Both the ability to do so and the effect this has on others’ evaluation of one’s ability and character develop as children grow and have increasingly complex understandings of others’ minds. A standard way of measuring these evaluations is by presenting children of different age, and adults, with a story in which a protagonist receives praise for an achievement and in response self-deprecates or self-enhances. Study participants are then asked to rate how other people might evaluate the protagonist’s ability and, separately, their character.

This shows a young woman.
A similar complexity arises around the question of whether the current performance was due to intrinsic talent or effort. Credit: Neuroscience News

However, what these studies have not considered is that for such an evaluation, people actually also consider whether the protagonist receiving praise usually performs well or not. This is because a self-deprecating statement by a usually poorly performing protagonist should be perceived as honest and nice, but the same statement by a usually well performing protagonist might be perceived as false modesty.

Furthermore, a self-enhancing statement by a usually poorly performing protagonist should be perceived as blatant falsehood and very awkward, and the same statement by a usually well performing protagonist may also be perceived as awkward and boastful.

A study by Kobe University developmental psychologist Hajimu Hayashi and University of Sussex developmental psychologist Robin Banerjee closed this gap by presenting Japanese elementary school children in second grades (7- and 8-year-olds) and fifth grades (10- and 11-year-olds) and Japanese adults with a more complex scenario.

Hayashi explains, “In studies with children, the tasks are usually simplified as much as possible and scenario characters often don’t have a history. However, in our daily interactions with others and making social evaluations and judgments about them, we consider their past or usual performance or behavior, and I wanted to investigate whether the same might be true for self-presentation.”

Study participants were introduced to a protagonist and another person and were told that that other person knows the protagonist’s usual performance (i.e., usually good or usually poor) in a given task. In the story, the protagonist then performs that task well and receives praise from the other person and responds in either a self-deprecating or self-enhancing way. The researchers first asked the study participants a few test questions to confirm whether they understood the scenario, and then asked them to rate how the other person evaluated the protagonist’s ability and character.

In the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, the Kobe University and University of Sussex team have now published their results.

They showed that in adults, assumed to have a fully developed theory of mind (the ability to attribute to other people thoughts and emotions different from one’s own), false statements by the protagonists were evaluated more negatively. This pattern of more negative evaluations of a usually poorly performing, self-enhancing protagonist’s character was also observed in fifth graders, but it was less evident in second graders.

Thus, by around the age of 10 years, the tendency of self-enhancement to lead to more positive ability evaluations of usually poorly performing protagonists disappeared and self-enhancement led to less positive character evaluations. These findings imply that the evaluation of self-enhancement and self-deprecation develops substantially from around the age of 7 to 10 years. Furthermore, second graders overall evaluated self-presenters as more competent and nicer. 

While this already portrays a clearer picture of how we evaluate self-presentation, the developmental psychologists caution that their data still cannot capture all relevant factors. For one, irrespective of their usual performance, protagonists invariably did well in the instance before receiving praise.

But self-presentation also occurs around performing poorly, and the perception of such statements might be interpreted differently depending on the protagonists’ current performance. And indeed, there were no negative evaluations of protagonists’ character, just more or less positive ones, and at worst only barely negative evaluations of protagonists’ true ability.

A similar complexity arises around the question of whether the current performance was due to intrinsic talent or effort. In addition, the cultural setting of the study, which was conducted with only Japanese participants, needs to be considered. 

The researchers say that their work has implications for how we evaluate children’s statements when they self-present and how we help them navigate issues arising from interpreting others’ statements.

The better we understand the development of how we interpret others and which abilities we may expect at what age, the better we will be able to provide that guidance.

Hayashi says, “I realized once again that the speech comprehension and communication of children in the early elementary school years are different from those of adults. We believe that if adults are aware of these differences, they will be able to provide children with deeper instruction and guidance.”

Funding: This research was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (grant JP19KK0309). It was conducted in collaboration with a researcher from the University of Sussex.

About this self perception and psychology research news

Author: Daniel Schenz
Source: Kobe University
Contact: Daniel Schenz – Kobe University
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Children’s and adults’ evaluations of self-enhancement and self-deprecation depend on the usual performance of the self-presenter” by HAYASHI Hajimu et al. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology


Children’s and adults’ evaluations of self-enhancement and self-deprecation depend on the usual performance of the self-presenter

This study examined how evaluations of self-presentation vary with age depending on the self-presenter’s usual performance. People’s usual performance is a key factor because it generally influences the social evaluations and judgments that others make about them.

Children aged 7 and 8 years (second graders) and 10 and 11 years (fifth graders), as well as adults, were presented with scenarios in which protagonists responded to praise after a good performance using either self-enhancement or self-deprecation. The other person in scenarios knew that the protagonist’s usual performance on the task was either good or poor. After the protagonist responded to praise in a self-enhancing or self-deprecating way, the participants judged how the other person would evaluate the protagonist’s ability (good/poor) and character (nice/mean).

For ability evaluations specifically concerning protagonists who usually performed poorly, the results showed that by around 10 years of age children no longer tended to give more positive ability evaluations for self-enhancement than for self-deprecation.

Adults gave less positive ability evaluations for self-deprecation than for self-enhancement, but only when the protagonists usually performed well. In relation to the character evaluations, by around 10 years of age self-enhancement led to less positive character evaluations than self-deprecation, but only when the protagonists usually performed poorly.

Overall, second graders evaluated self-presenters as more competent and nicer. These results indicate that the expected evaluation of self-enhancement and self-deprecation is influenced by the usual level of performance but that there are developmental changes in this aspect of social cognition.

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