Self-awareness is a state, which involves an active identification and processing of information related to the self. Being self-aware enables individuals to focus on their private self-aspects like traits, emotions, mood, and feelings; and public self-aspects such as physical appearance and mannerisms.

The social psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund, suggest that in different circumstances an individual’s attention is directed to different features of the self. When attention is directed to external factors such as people or surroundings then it is referred to as public self-awareness. When attention is directed to internal aspects such as beliefs, thoughts, feelings, personal memories, etc., then it is referred to as private self-awareness.

This shifting of attention to different features of the self has significant implications when it comes to online and face-to-face interactions. Depending on whether being online or having face-to-face interactions, attention is focused on different features of the self. It determines how a person may act and the kind of information that he or she might reveal.

During online interaction, generally, people are in their comfortable, private space, with very little distractions; there is social distance and a sense of ease. In such a situation, an individual does not feel conscious about the surroundings, which reduces evaluation apprehension and the pressure for self-presentation. The sense of ease and comfort suggests that private self-awareness is heightened, and at the same time not feeling conscious, indicates that there is reduced public self-awareness.

Therefore, during online interaction, a heightened private sense of self-awareness gives greater access to one’s inner thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The reduced sense of public self-awareness enables individuals to be themselves without the fear of being negatively judged. On the other hand, during face-to-face interactions, it is almost the opposite, that is, there is a reduced sense of private self-awareness, and a heightened sense of public self-awareness.

A greater access to inner thoughts and feelings and not worrying about being judged allows individuals to indulge in more self-disclosure – revealing of private, personal information. On similar lines, computer-mediated-communication expert Joseph Walther suggests that communication online is hyper-personal.

In online interaction, people have a lot more time to respond. They do not have to react and respond immediately as one has to do in face-to-face interactions. This means that communication in online interaction is asynchronous. Due to this, the responses are well thought out, and individuals have greater control in what they have to say.

Walther suggests that these aspects of online interaction allow communication to be more personal and intimate, as compared to face-to-face interactions. This means that communication is hyper-personal, indicating a high level of self-disclosure. This hyper-personal communication becomes a lot more possible due to a heightened sense of private self-awareness.

Further, the aspect of hyper-personal communication of the internet allows better self-presentation. A heightened sense of private sense of self-awareness (greater access to internal aspects) and a reduced sense of public self-awareness (low self-consciousness and evaluation apprehension), during online interaction, actually enables to present their true self in better a manner as compared to face-to-face interactions.

The true self comprises aspects of the individual that they believe to be possessing but are usually not able to express or reveal, during face-to-face interaction. The humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers suggests that individuals have an inherent need to express their true self. On the internet, a greater focus on internal aspects allows individuals to access their true self. In addition to that a low level of self-consciousness, on the internet, makes it easier to express those aspects of true self.

Therefore, the shifting of attention on the internal aspects (private self-awareness) and a lesser attention on external aspects, during online interaction, enables individuals to have a deep, intimate communication, and also reveal qualities about themselves, which they may want others to know about. Depending on the circumstances, this may not be always possible in face-to-face interaction.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India

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