I'm interested in theories on how organisations shape their stakeholders' (especially consumers' and investors') perceptions and decisions. I read about Impression Management and Signaling Theory. They seam to be quite similar and I'm unsure when to apply which of them and where they differ. I could not find an article comparing both theories. Signaling Theory is especially for cases with information asymmetry but it seams like Impression Management is also more common in cases with scare information on one side.


1 Answer 1


I don't believe those two terms are used in the same spheres.

To me, an economic theorist, signaling plays a role in models with asymmetric information when the informed party moves first and the uninformed player reacts, treating the first action as a signal about the private information. This idea goes back to Spence, and also plays a role in biology with non-human interaction.

In contrast, impression management is (maybe just to me) an umbrella term for all kinds of behavior aiming at improving the perception ("image") of something. I would use it loosely like "public relations" and not with a formal definition in context of a mathematical model in mind (as opposed to signaling). Because the history of thought is so different, both terms are difficult to compare. The idea goes back to the sociological book "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" and there is no mathematical model. Impression management is essentially his "self-presentation theory, which suggests that people have the desire to control the impressions that other people form about them." (from the Wikipedia entry)

  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough. While I believe it makes sense to discuss signaling here, a discussion of "impression management" would be out of scope for an economics board (as in I would vote to close such a question). $\endgroup$
    – Bayesian
    Jul 17, 2021 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ (I also intended this more as a comment, but it got too long.) $\endgroup$
    – Bayesian
    Jul 17, 2021 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ thanks for your answer! So where would you ask the question? $\endgroup$
    – TiTo
    Jul 19, 2021 at 9:54
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    $\begingroup$ Just to note, the two concepts can be related in practice. For example, an advertisement may serve for "impression management", while also serving a "traditional" signaling purpose. For example, there is a whole literature on advertising serving as signaling. $\endgroup$
    – BB King
    Mar 22, 2023 at 22:03

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