Research Confirms That Humble Bragging Doesn't Work, It's Just Really Annoying

05/20/2015 01:02 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2015
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Before you share the news about your recent job promotion on Facebook, consider this: Researchers have found that a little humble-bragging can backfire. In other words, your false modesty is pretty transparent, and people detest you for it.

The difference between a humble brag and a traditional brag is the way in which a person presents her accomplishment. Two tweets for clarity:

Humble brag:

Standard brag:

The humble brag attempts to obscure the fact that Ms. Swift has a custom designer dress for a big celebrity event by sharing a "relatable" detail about her unruly cat. The standard brag states, outright, an accomplishment.

The study, which comes from researchers at City University London, Carnegie Mellon University and Bocconi University and was published in Psychological Science, reveals that humble-braggers misread the affects of their self-promotion: They overestimate positive responses and emotions and underestimate negatives ones.

"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," says Irene Scopelliti, the study's lead and a lecturer in marketing at City University London. She says the impact of self-promotion may be exacerbated by social media, where there's a greater distance between the news-sharer and the recipient.

Self-promoters' objective may be to make a good impression, but this often backfires. Researchers performed two different experiments to gauge the boaster's misperception when it came to how his or her message was received. In the first, Scopelliti told The Huffington Post, half of the participants were asked to describe a case in which they had bragged to someone else. They were then told to describe the emotions they felt and the emotions the thought the recipient felt. The other participants were told to describe an instance where someone had bragged to them, how they felt and how they believed the braggart felt. "We coded the emotions indicated and observed that the braggers thought their recipients experienced far more positive emotions, and far less negative emotions, than recipients did," Scopelliti said.

The second study asked participants to, again, describe a situation where they bragged to someone else or someone else bragged about them. The same results occurred: self-promoters miscalculated the extent to which recipients were happy for them and proud of them, and underestimated the extent to which recipients were annoyed by them. "We attribute this miscalibration to a phenomenon called the ‘empathy gap’: both parties, self-promoters and recipients, have trouble imagining how they would feel if they roles were reversed," Scopelliti said.

A third, separate experiment was to test emotions connected to online bragging. The researchers gauged reactions to online profiles, some of which were much more self-promotional than others. Their findings revealed that those on the receiving end of a show-off sentence or Facebook status perceive excessive self-promoters as unlikable and as braggarts. Despite the profile creator's thinking, self-promoting details did not impress readers -- their intentions actually backfired. Their self-promotion decreased readers positive perceptions of the person who they were reading about.

"These results are particularly important in the Internet age, when opportunities for self-promotion have proliferated via social networking," Scopelliti said. "The emotional miscalibration that we observe may indeed be exacerbated by the additional distance between people sharing information and their recipients, which can both reduce the empathy of the self-promoter and decrease the sharing of pleasure by the recipient."

A team of Harvard researchers recently released a separate paper that underscored the same findings about humble bragging. The researchers ran five different experiments with 302 participants, having them rate the likability and attractiveness of a humble bragger. They found that those who humble bragged were perceived as more irritating and less likable than complainers and traditional braggarts.

At the conclusion of their paper, the researchers print a word of advice for anyone looking to share an achievement: "Faced with the choice to (honestly) brag or (deceptively) humblebrag, would-be self-promoters should choose the former –- and at least reap the rewards of seeming sincere," they write.

Think before you #humblebrag.

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