Self-Monitoring and Cognitive Processes: Differences between High and Low Self-Monitors on the Speed of Attractiveness Ratings and Memory for Attractive and Unattractive Faces.

Carrie Whalen

Saint Anselm College

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This study could have not have been completed without the help of several key individuals. First and foremost I would like to thank God for giving me the strength and endurance I need to run the race of the college experience. Secondly, I would like to thank Professor Joanna Gonsalves for her help in perfecting this project. Myself along with the other students in my class are truly thankful to have a very caring professor that is always available to guide their students. The psychology students at Saint Anselm College are truly blessed with some of the most caring, intelligent and supportive faculty academia has to offer.

I would also like to thank my mother for supporting me throughout my college experience. I know that our life as a family has not always been easy but I am glad that we have come this far successfully. I know that the past few years have been hard on all of us, but Iím glad that we have done our best to stick together. Brendan and Bridget, thanks for being a good brother and sister to me, I wish the both of you the best of luck in school and in all of your future endeavors.

I would like to thank my loving friends for all of their support. You have all been invaluable to me throughout these past four years and I canít thank any of you enough. Amy, Andrea, Darcy, Holly, Katie and Kristen, you girls mean the world to me and I am so glad to know all of you. I donít think that I could begin to express how much gratitude I feel toward you girls. Also, I would like to thank Andy for being there for my complete mental breakdown over this whole thing. I am so glad that you were there to listen to me ramble on about all of my anxieties facing this very daunting task. I appreciate it! I love you all very much.

Lastly I would like to thank Emily for being there for me though a very tough semester last year. I am glad that we have managed to stay friends Iím glad that you and I are on the same page. Good luck with the rest of the semester. Now letís graduate!!!


Previous research has indicated that the self-monitoring levels of individuals plays a role in the how they perceive the attractiveness of others, (Guarino, Michael & Hocevar, 1998). Social advantages of physical attractiveness and liabilities of unattractiveness have also been shown to have a strong role on the outlook of both men and women, (Lavin & Cash, 2000). This current study was an attempt to look at the immediate effects of cognitive processes upon self-monitoring and the response time of individuals. Thirty-eight men and women were asked to participate in this study. Participants utilized the Self-Monitoring Scale, (Snyder, 1974) and were also asked to utilize the Superlab computer program in order to be presented with stimuli on which to make judgments. There was significance found for the unattractive female pictures on the scale. It was found that both male and female high self-monitors took longer to process these pictures, and the mean response time for these pictures was higher for the high self-monitors as compared to those who reported as being low in self-monitoring. There were no other interactions found for the other classifications of pictures or memory. Further research would be helpful in this area to explain the connection between self-monitoring and the cognitive processes of attractiveness ratings. In addition, further research is needed to examine the reasons behind the significantly longer response time for the unattractive females. In review of this study it would be interesting to see if there are cultural reasons for this finding as well.


In American society beauty is both a cultural construct and a social construct. Cultural standards of appearance are often narrowly defined, tend to describe what is rare rather than what is commonplace, are reinforced through media images, are ubiquitous, and are powerful, (Rudd & Lennon, 2001). One of the most salient features of the existing research in this area has been the focus on gender as a key predictor in how individuals regard their appearance, (Vartanian, Giant, & Passino, 2001). A potential key factor in the way that some individuals view themselves as compared to others could be a result of the images portrayed to society by the media, (Wegner, Hartmann, & Geist, 2000). A reason for this could be that when women compare themselves with media images of ideal female attractiveness, a perceived discrepancy between their actual attractiveness and the mediaís standard of attractiveness is likely to result, (Posovac, Posovac, & Weigel, 2001). The influence of the media is very powerful and to some can be underestimated for some potential long-term effects. Following exposure to visual images, some persons who have psychological and behavioral features associated with disordered eating experience greater anger, depressed mood, and body dissatisfaction than those without symptoms of disordered eating, (Pinhas, Toner, Ali, Garfinkel & Stuckless, 1998). Social advantages of physical attractiveness and liabilities of unattractiveness can play a strong role on the outlook of both men and women, (Lavin & Cash, 2000). This means that attractiveness of the images portrayed in the media do not have the potential to be as nearly as powerful as the cues that we receive through our peers. When confronted with another person with superior attributes, a devaluation of self is taken to be evidence of and upward social comparison, (Wilcox & Laird, 2000). This leads to the likelihood that individuals who are constantly encountered with visual images that are much closer to home to be equally effective in determining how one feels about themselves.

Over the past two decades the shift to rely on beauty and attractiveness has become more relevant to all individuals despite cultural background or age. Reasons for this shift could be due to an increase in the popular media such as TV, movies, magazines or other printed materials. This could be a major factor behind why so many individuals internalize the images that they are presented with. After being presented with these images however, it is important to realize that there are two types of ways in looking at every problem. A possible solution to viewing these images is to overlook the physical, or external image that you are being presented with and realize that there is a deeper image that involves values and thoughts that is more important than the external presentation. This is in turn used as a basis of attractiveness. However, another way of absorbing these images is to concern oneself with the external presentation of the image and adopt those images as the sole basis of attractiveness. There would be no concern as to what values or thought involved surround the person presented.

Despite the large amount of research on self-monitoring attitudes and judgments of stimuli, little has been done to research the cognitive processing of this phenomena or the difference between gender in regard to these ratings.

This study examined the personality variable self-monitoring and the speed of attractiveness ratings and memory for faces. The Superlab computer program was utilized to measure the reaction time of images presented. Participants were asked to fill out the self-monitoring scale in order to determine their individual level of self-monitoring and were then asked to rate the attractiveness of faces that they were in turn presented with. It was predicted that the high self-monitors would spend more time viewing faces to make attractiveness ratings as well as more overall comments on the open response answer sheet because they will process the information more fully. High self-monitors were also predicted to have a better score on the memory task that demanded participants to answer as to whether or not they recognized the facial features they were presented with in the program because they will process the material better during the original presentation. It was also predicted that the females would be overall higher self-monitors as compared to the male participants in this study. In this study the attractiveness of the image presented will be used as an exploratory variable.



This study involved the participation of twelve male and twenty-six female college students enrolled in introductory psychology classes. Students received course credit at the completion of the study. See Appendix A. The consent of participants was acquired before commencing the study. Due to the deception involved in this experiment, students were debriefed directly following participation in the study. See Appendix D.


The design utilized was a 2x2 Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) design. The between group subject variables are the sex of the participant and the level of self-monitoring of the participant as assessed by the self-monitoring questionnaire. The within subjects manipulated variables are the attractiveness and sex of the stimulus presented using the Superlab program. Dependent variables were the response time of the participant in making the attractiveness ratings, the mean rating of each participant for the attractiveness of each picture presented and the number correct on the recognition test for stimulus presented.


The materials used included the Self-Monitoring Questionnaire developed by Mark Snyder (1974). See Appendix B. This true/ false instrument consisted of twenty-five questions, and three different subscales. The first of these subscales sought the participantsí willingness to be the center of attention or a tendency to behave in outgoing, extraverted ways for example: I guess I put on a show to impress or entertain people. The second subscale recorded the participantsí sensitivity to the reactions of others. For example, Even if I am not enjoying myself, I often pretend to be having a good time. Lastly, the third subscale recorded the participantsí ability and willingness to adjust to behavior to induce positive reactions in others. For example, In order to get along and be liked, I tend to be what people expect me to be rather than anything else.

Following the questionnaire, participants were asked to complete a task programmed with the Superlab computer program, which allowed the stimuli to be presented in a specific order according to the preference of the experimenter. The pictures used in this program were acquired from various Internet dating sites that incorporated pictures as a part of their web page, and were pre-tested for levels of attractiveness by students enrolled in a Psychology of Gender class, pictures were then coded into two groups, high and low attractiveness. During the first section of the computer program, participants were asked to fill out an open-ended response sheet regarding the attractiveness of the first five stimulus viewed. See Appendix C. Lastly, the stimuli presented on the last section of the computer program were lab created by cropping photos in order to present only certain facial features from pictures presented and some pictures that were not previously presented as stimuli. This was done in order to effectively test the memory of participants on the recognition of previously presented stimulus.


The participants were administered a Self-Monitoring Questionnaire that assessed their level of self-monitoring, following instructions presented at the top of the simply true/ false questionnaire. Secondly, following instructions presented by the Superlab program, participants were asked to judge the attractiveness of male and females presented as stimuli on a computer. The Superlab program was used to program the sequence of stimuli presented and to measure and record responses and response time. After reading the instructions for this experiment, the pre-test portion of the program consisted of five photos of males and females with varying rates of attractiveness. Participants were asked to rate the level of attractiveness of the stimulus on a scale one thru five and also record using and open-ended response sheet, what they perceived to be the most attractive or unattractive qualities of the stimuli, all stimuli in this program were presented in the same order to each participant. This qualitative data will be used to supplement the experimental data. Directly following this, the participants were then asked to simply rate the attractiveness of twenty subsequent pictures on a scale from one thru five. Reaction time was measured from the onset of the stimuli to the keystroke selection for the attractiveness rates.

Following this, participants were exposed to ten pictures that displayed varying facial features some of which had already been presented in the previous levels of the experiment and some of which had not. Participants were asked to respond with either a yes or no as to whether or not they had already viewed these images previously. Responses are then scored according to the number of correct judgments on the recognition test. Raw rating and attractiveness scores were combined for analysis.


Descriptive Statistics

Out of the thirty-eight participants in this study, nearly 43.0% of participants were reported as low self-monitors. Out of that percentage, 35.0% were male and 65.0% female. 57.0% were reported as high self monitors and stemming from that group 23.0% were male and 77% female.

Inferential Statistics

A 2x2 Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) was performed on data for the variables of self-monitoring and gender. The gender of the participant was shown to be significant only involving the responses received on the first task of the Superlab computer program. F (1,16) = 11.667, p < .01. There were no other gender differences in participantís responses. However the female both high and low self-monitors seemed to give the pictures an overall higher score than male high and low self-monitors. See Figure 2.

There was implied significance for the mean reaction time of the unattractive female pictures, according to the assigned self-monitoring score, F (1,16) = 2.300 p=.062. This was also apparent by the average of 17 open-responses reported from the high self-monitors as compared to the same average amount of responses from the low self-monitors.

There was also an interaction between gender and the self-monitoring score that was shown to be significant, reporting F (6,16) = 4.544 p <.009. This significance however was only reported for the unattractive female pictures, not for the other three classifications of pictures. See Figure 1. This graph displays the mean response time as an effect of gender and self-monitoring scores. It is shown that the female high self-monitors took longer to process the pictures of the unattractive females as compared to the male high self-monitors who took significantly less time. There were no differences found in the memory test of the participants regarding either gender or self-monitoring scores of the individual.

There was a difference found between the mean scores on the female unattractive pictures between high and low self-monitors. See Table 1. The mean score for the low self-monitors was 3406.25 (sd = 2591.57). It was also shown that the high self-monitors received a significantly higher mean score on response time than the low self-monitors. See Table 2. The high self-monitors received an overall mean of 3657.50 (sd = 1482.11).


Research Support

Previous research has indicated that self-monitoring plays a role in the way that we perceive others. This self-perception in relation to others is apparent in the way media images pervade our everyday lives. Individuals encounter so many of these images that it is seemingly impossible to avoid them. The presentation of these images can have the potential to affect the way we see ourselves and judge the attractiveness of those around us. The main purpose of this study was to focus on how our cognitive processes affect our judgments of other people. In other words, is the way in which we judge attractiveness different for high or low self-monitors, and if there were a difference would this be reflected in the scores of attractiveness, the response time of the ratings or both? Most previous studies simply focused on the attractiveness ratings of stimulus presented. Cunningham, Roberts, Barbee & Druen (1995) found support that attractiveness is culturally relevant and not just native to the societal standards set in America. This implies that this study could have a global impact as well because standards of beauty are considered relatively homogeneous. In other words what is considered attractive in one culture would be attractive in all other cultures.

Results Critique

There was significance found for both female and male high self-monitors in the judgment of the unattractive female pictures. Therefore the hypothesis was supported in this case but not for the remaining three levels of stimulus presented. The reason for this being could possibly be due to the high self-monitors reliance on external cues in their judgments of others and because the attractive female face is most prevalent in media images that participants were not used to viewing this new stimuli and therefore had a more difficult time making a rating. The was no significance found for the number of open responses received nor was there significance found for the mean scores of the memory task. Reasons for this being could be due to some of the unplanned pixelization of a few of the stimulus presented once entered into the Superlab computer program. Another reason for this could be that participants felt as though reporting the same average of responses for all five pictures was an experimenter expectation due to the space provided on the sheet. A reason for no significant findings on the memory score could be that the facial features presented in this section of the program were easy for all participants to recognize and therefore would not matter if a participant was more highly cued into the most salient of these features.

Statistical Significance

The small sample size of thirty-eight participants may have been problematic in this study, thus making it more difficult to produce statistical impact. If more participants were asked to partake in this study, then the findings could have possibly better supported previous research. Moreover, the selection of participants could be another factor to consider. All participants used in this study consisted of thirty-eight introductory psychology students who reside in the northeast section of the United States. All of these participants were of the same age and very similar educational backgrounds and also arrive from very similar cultural environments. This homogeneous group only allows the researcher to carry on these results to similar groups in the same region of the country. As a result, these particular factors make it difficult to apply these results to a larger, more heterogeneous population sample.

Demand Characteristics

Demand Characteristics is a variable in this study that maybe have prevented the possibility of obtaining significant results. Some participants may notice certain cues in an experimental situation that communicate to these individuals what is expected and what the experimenter expects to find in his or her experiment. Due to these demand characteristics, participants are more likely to be sensitive to the aim of the hypotheses and try to behave that would not be true to the participantsí true responses. In order to control for these demand characteristics it was ensured that each participant was given the same instructions from the experimenter. The experimenter ensured that the same tone of voice was used in each trial and each participant was placed in the same condition as the previous. It was also imperative that each participant received the same instructions. By using the instructions printed at the top of the self-monitoring scale and response sheet participants were all exposed to the same conditions. Instructions in the Superlab program were presented on a separate screen at the beginning of each new level of the program. Using the same room and computer during each trial in order to control for faulty equipment or the interruption from external sources controlled for other demand characteristics. Participants were also told that the study was an attractiveness study, but were not aware of the other variables such as self-monitoring scores or gender as factors in this study. Overall there were not many concerns that were a threat to the experimental reliability.

Possible Changes in Experiment

A possible change in this experiment would be to utilize better quality pictures in the presentation of stimuli. Another change in this experiment would be to provide participants with a formulated response sheet to rate the attractive or unattractive features of individuals. This might prove to be useful in the objective calculation of responses and could possibly lead to significance in this area of the experiment. Also, the experiment could have been more statistically significant if the sample size was larger and consisted of an equal amount of males and females.

Further Research

As a result of the significant and potential findings presented above, it is evident that further research needs to be conducted in the area of cognitive processing of attractiveness. As mentioned earlier by Posovac, Posovac & Weigel, A reason for social comparison as a result of self-monitoring could be that when women compare themselves with media images of ideal female attractiveness, a perceived discrepancy between their actual attractiveness and the mediaís standard of attractiveness is likely to result. This gives researchers sufficient evidence that this comparison occurs but it would be interesting to research the cognitive processes of this phenomena separate from reaction time. Future research might want to even see what parts of the brain are responsible for our judgments of attractiveness of individuals and also our judgments of overall beauty.

Applications to Society

Some practical applications of this study in modern day society would be to use this information in the review of standard ideals of attractiveness. The fact that there was only significance found in the cognitive processing of the unattractive female pictures could possibly mean that there is something wrong with the ideal images that are presented by the media sources on an everyday basis. There would have to be much more research to support the hypothesis that unattractive females have more time spent looking at them compared to all other levels of attractive and unattractive males and females. The processes behind these judgments could be found if further research looked more closely at the relatedness of attractiveness and cognitive processing in order to understand the reason being for these findings.