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Beware: Bragging Often Backfires

Beware: Bragging Often Backfires

Bragging about a recent promotion at work or posting a photo of your new car on Facebook may seem like harmless ways to share good news.

But a new study has found that this kind of self-promotion often backfires.

Researchers from City University London, Carnegie Mellon University and Bocconi University wanted to find out why so many people frequently get the trade-off between self-promotion and modesty wrong.

What they discovered is that braggarts overestimate how much their self-promotion elicits positive emotions and underestimate how much it elicits negative emotions.

“Most people probably realize that they experience emotions other than pure joy when they are on the receiving end of someone else’s self-promotion.

“Yet, when we engage in self-promotion ourselves, we tend to overestimate others’ positive reactions and underestimate their negative ones,” said Irene Scopelliti, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a lecturer in marketing at City University London who conducted the research while a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon.

“These results are particularly important in the Internet age, when opportunities for self-promotion have proliferated via social networking,” she continued.

“The effects may be exacerbated by the additional distance between people sharing information and their recipient, which can both reduce the empathy of the self-promoter and decrease the sharing of pleasure by the recipient.”

“This shows how often, when we are trying to make a good impression, it backfires,” added George Loewenstein, Ph.D., a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon.

“Bragging is probably just the tip of the iceberg of the self-destructive things we do in the service of self-promotion, from unfortunate flourishes in public speeches to inept efforts to ‘dress for success’ to obviously insincere attempts to ingratiate ourselves to those in power.”

For the study, published in Psychological Science, the researchers ran two experiments to find evidence of the misperception. A third experiment examined the consequences of the miscalibration, revealing that recipients of excessive self-promotion view self-promoters as less likeable and as braggarts.

The researchers believe knowing this could be valuable for both braggarts and self-promotion recipients.

“It may be beneficial for people who plan to engage in self-promotion to try to realize that others may actually be less happy than they think to hear about their latest achievement.

“Recipients of such self-promotion who find themselves annoyed might likewise try to bolster their tolerance in the knowledge that braggarts genuinely underestimate others’ negative reactions to their bragging,” said Joachim Vosgerau, Ph.D., a professor of marketing at Bocconi University.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

Beware: Bragging Often Backfires

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Beware: Bragging Often Backfires. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 May 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.