Bragging backfires

Bragging has been around as long as communication: as soon as one of our ancestors realised he could let others know how brave he had been when hunting that sharp-tooth, the proud human tradition of self-promotion began. The strange thing about bragging is that people continue to do it because no-one enjoys hearing someone else brag. So the question that researchers sought to answer in new research was why do we do it?

Although bragging has been around for millennia, it seems as though modern technology has been built specifically to allow self-promotion. Social media has essentially become a medium for bragging and self-promotion has proliferated through it like mould on an uncared-for athletic support. Yet as these researchers pointed out, why do people think that people will want to hear them bragging about their fantastic relationship, wonderful job, or new smart-widget when they themselves don’t like it when others brag. The whole point of self-promotion is to increase the favourable opinion that other people have of you yet you know that when someone brags you think less of them. So why do we do it?

As a result of their studies these researchers came up with the fact that as we said, self-promotion entails a trade-off between conveying your positive attributes and being seen as bragging. Their first two experiments showed that people get this trade-off wrong because they erroneously project their own feelings onto their interaction partners. As a consequence, people overestimate the extent to which recipients of their self-promotion will feel proud of and happy for them, and underestimate the extent to which recipients will feel annoyed. The third experiment showed that precisely because people tend to promote themselves excessively when trying to make a good impression, the efforts are often exaggerated and backfire, causing targets of self-promotion to view self-promoters as less likeable.

No wonder then that social media enhance bragging because the distance between the person sharing the information and the recipient reduce both the empathy of the self-promoter and sharing pleasure of the recipient.

It’s not rocket science but before you launch into a rhapsodic instagram rendition of your breakfast, pause and consider that no matter how you eulogise it, people will not relate to those balsamic fried mushrooms they way you did. It’s a tough lesson but as REM tried to tell us, “Oh life, it’s bigger, bigger than you, and you are not me.”

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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