Downplaying positive impressions: Compensation between warmth and competence in impression management

Deborah Son Holoien, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


The compensation effect demonstrates a negative relationship between the dimensions of warmth and competence in impression formation in comparative contexts. However, does compensation between warmth and competence extend to impression management? Two studies examined whether people actively downplay their warmth in order to appear competent and downplay their competence in order to appear warm. In Studies 1a and 1b, participants selected words pretested to be high or low in warmth and competence to include in an e-mail message to people they wanted to impress. As predicted, participants downplayed their competence when they wanted to appear warm (Study 1a) and downplayed their warmth when they wanted to appear competent (Study 1b). In Studies 2a and 2b, compensation also occurred when participants introduced themselves to another person, as evidenced by the questions they selected to answer about themselves, their self-reported goals, and their open-ended introductions. Compensation occurred uniquely between warmth and competence and not for other dimensions, such as healthiness (Study 2a) and political interest (Study 2b), which suggests that the compensation effect extends beyond a mere zero-sum exchange between dimensions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-41
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Competence
  • Impression management
  • Self-presentation
  • Warmth


Dive into the research topics of 'Downplaying positive impressions: Compensation between warmth and competence in impression management'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this