The human being is a gregarious animal by nature. Since the dawn of its evolution as a species, it has coexisted in groups of greater or lesser size, but not as large as the current ones, collaborating on the tasks necessary to survive.
All of this has led most people to show a particular interest in relationships with their peers, especially in such critical times of life as adolescence.
In this article we will discuss the concept of social desirability, Which finds its roots in this evolving baggage and which is expressed vehemently in multiple areas of life, conditioning our decisions and our relationships.
Concept of social desire
Social desirability can be understood as a response style, or as a tendency to behave, in situations where there is a component of judgment on the part of others.
It collects a series of attributes, thoughts, acts and beliefs that are rated (by the group of members) as acceptable; therefore a reward is derived for their membership and a sanction (or rejection) for their non-compliance.
Because most human beings want to show others a favorable image, which is often embodied in masks in order to hide anything that is perceived as unacceptable, there would be pressure to adapt individuality to the molds of one’s expectations. individual. Thus, the tortuosities of the true identity would be shown only to the people whose bond would guarantee us acceptance and validation.
The most intense expression of social desirability would occur in the event that we perceive a marked gap between what we believe we are and what others expect of us, especially when we place a high positive value on acceptance and a high negative value at rejection.
The importance of this concept is such that it is believed to influence the results of psychological assessment., Especially in the area of human resources and the clinic. For this reason, several authors have included specific scales to detect it in tools that measure constructs such as personality structure or job performance, thus specifying a margin of error attributable to the need to approve its assessment. .
Why social desirability exists
Affiliation has been a topic of interest both for basic psychology and for evolutionary, clinical and social aspects.. Even Abraham Maslow, one of the most eminent humanists, placed it at the very heart of his popular pyramid of needs (above physiology and security, and below the recognition and realization of self); stressing that after having covered the most fundamental aspects of survival, social relations would be the last link from which to overcome personal transcendence.
There are currently many studies that highlight the extraordinary negative impact of the absence of affection or affect on the development of the human brain, especially at a time when there is evidence of deprivation of care. basic for the newborn, the central nervous system is immersed in an intense process of maturation. Unwanted loneliness also has a deleterious effect on old age, increasing morbidity and reducing life expectancy.
And it is that human beings need collaboration with other members of their own species to face the vicissitudes of the environment. Thousands of years ago, when societies did not have a structure as we know it today, communities were made up of small groups of individuals who acted in a coordinated fashion to meet individual needs, with isolation an inexorable death sentence (predators, accidents, etc.).
Humans living together were more likely to survive and to give continuity to their genetic makeup through reproduction, facilitating the transmission of traits that would stimulate the maintenance of social bonds. All this favored by the cultural components and the attribution of roles, within a society which endowed the individual with a feeling of larger belonging.
Therefore, social desirability is the result of the confluence of cultural, social, psychological and biological dimensions; that stimulate the need to be accepted by reference groups. This reality serves as a foundation for making sense of other phenomena observed in social dynamics, from conformism to prosocial behavior.
In the field of psychology, social desirability has also been understood as a variable of confusion in the performance of psychometric tests (questionnaires, for example), consisting in modeling the answers proposed by the evaluator in order to “ adopt a position consistent with dominant norms or values. This particular bias would therefore be one of the consequences of the will to accept.
In what areas does it manifest itself
Social desirability has a profound impact on many areas of life. In this section, we will describe only a few, although it can be extended to many more.
The first stages of a relationship aim to show the other all those characteristics that, based on the narrow margins of social expectations, we consider to have greater interpersonal appeal. like that, there is a tendency to underline all positives (As the most desirable achievements in life and personality traits), ignoring what could generate resistance in the exchanges of the entourage.
As the relationship progresses and the bond strengthens, it tends to consolidate a commitment to continuity that dilutes the fear of rejection. It is at this stage that social desirability weakens, showing itself to be the more questionable aspects of who we think we are. This may be the phase in which a greater emotional connection occurs, supported by more authentic communication.
2. Prosocial behavior
Prosocial conduct is understood to mean any deliberate activity which pursues, as a direct consequence, the production of a good for groups or individuals in a situation of vulnerability. As a result of these acts, consideration is received, Can be economic (salary) or social (prestige, consideration or relief from difficult emotions such as guilt or disgust).
This concept differs from altruism in the detail that, in the latter case, no benefit of any kind is associated with the person who develops the helping behavior (neither pecuniary nor of any other kind). The impact of social desirability is of such magnitude that many authors suggest that altruism as such would not be possible, as any disinterested behavior would hide the incentive to seek a desirable and accepted personal image by the environment.
3. Rejection of social groups
Virtually all societies have condemned other groups of people to ostracism as unworthy of worth., Encouraging this discriminatory judgment on cultural and / or religious rigors. A descriptive example of the phenomenon would be the Untouchables of India, a collective subjected to the explicit rejection of its community on the basis of the attribution of particular characteristics that oppose what is desirable.
There is ample evidence that people may be tempted to answer a question by considering in advance the degree of consensus of their own reference group on possible answers, especially when the environment is ambiguous and there is physical proximity. That way, it would increase the likelihood of doing something wrong, just because it’s the most common.
The phenomenon has been studied through research situations designed for this purpose, being the following classic example:
A group of people are placed on the same table, all (except one) collaborating with the experimenter. They are shown a straight line of medium length and then made to choose from three possible options (lines of different length) that would most closely resemble the one originally taught. The evaluated subject would respond at the end, when the others would have consensually indicated one of the bad options. In a large percentage, he would end up opting for the same line and wrong.
5. Psychometric biases
Social desirability influences a respondent’s responses to a formal psychological assessment. There are multiple studies that explore this phenomenon and link it to biases associated with the human factor, and for which specific strategies are created for their adequate control.
Social desirability is not the equivalent of lying
While the phenomenon may seem like a perfect alibi for producing dishonest acts or even lies, it is not at all.
Social desirability serves as an axis to better understand the mechanisms of persuasion and relational dynamics which take place in the social fact, by exerting their influence on very different spheres of life. It therefore illustrates how group pressure can condition the way we express ourselves in front of others.
Domínguez, AC, Aguilera, S., Acosta, TT, Navarro, G. and Ruiz, Z. (2012). Reassessed social desirability: more than a distortion, a need for social approval. Psychological Research Act, 2 (3), 808-824.
Salgado, F. (2005). Personality and social desirability in organizational contexts: implications for the practice of work and organizational psychology. Documents of the psychologist, 26, 115-128.