Summary: In this clip from the popular British comedy television series of the same name, Mr. Bean attempts to cheat off a fellow student during an exam. So as to appear inconspicuous, Mr. Bean engages in impression management, a process in which social actors---either consciously or not---seek to influence the perceptions of other people by controlling information exchanged and exhibited during the social interaction. Erving Goffman emphasized that the process of impression management (and the closely related concept of self-presentation) is specific to a situational context. In this case, Mr. Bean attempts to regulate the social interaction in such a way that his classmates and professor do not suspect him of cheating; he does so by drawing upon behavior that we, as a society, have collectively deemed "test-taking behavior," appropriate for the situational context of a classroom exam. Such behavior deployed by Mr. Bean includes pretending to have a sudden epiphany of a correct answer, and feigning intense concentration by wrinkling his brow and sticking out the tip of his tongue. However, as time passes and Mr. Bean gets more desperate, his attempts to cheat become more extreme; as such, his ability to manage his fellow student's and professor's impressions of the situation become more tenuous, bordering on failure. Goffman says that when a social actor's attempts to present a desired impression is inconsistent with an audience's perception---that is, when the impression management process breaks down---embarrassment occurs. Instructors can encourage students to think about the great lengths we all go, like Mr. Bean, to manage people's impressions of ourselves in our everyday lives. Can students think of embarrassing moments in their own lives and apply theories of impression management and self-presentation to make sense of these awkward social interactions?
Submitted By: Stephanie K. Decker