Rethinking social desirability scales: From impression management to interpersonally oriented self-control

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Social desirability (specifically, impression management) scales are widely used by researchers and practitioners to screen individuals who bias self-reports in a self-favoring manner. These scales also serve to identify individuals at risk for psychological and health problems. The present review explores the evidence with regard to the ability of these scales to achieve these objectives. In the first part of the review, I present six criteria to evaluate impression management scales and conclude that they are unsatisfactory as measures of response style. Next, I explore what individual differences in impression management scores actually do measure. I compare two approaches: A defensiveness approach, which argues that these scales measure defensiveness that stems from vulnerable self-esteem, and an adjustment approach, which suggests that impression management is associated with personal well-being and interpersonal adjustment. Data from a wide variety of fields including social behavior, affect and wellbeing, health, and job performance tend to favor the adjustment approach. Finally, I argue that scales measuring impression management should be redefined as measures of interpersonally oriented self-control that identify individuals who demonstrate high levels of self-control, especially in social contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-262
Number of pages20
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Defensiveness
  • Impression management
  • Interpersonally oriented self-control
  • Social desirability
  • Validity scales


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