The “humblebrag” and other forms of self-promotion often backfire, a new study finds.
The researchers wanted to find out why so many people frequently get the trade-off between self-promotion and modesty wrong. They found that self-promoters overestimate how much their self-promotion elicits positive emotions and underestimate how much it elicits negative emotions.
As a consequence, when people try to increase the favorability of the opinion others have of them, they excessively self-promote, which has the opposite of the intended effect.
“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 author and a lecturer in marketing at City University London. She conducted the research while a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University.
“These results are particularly important in the internet age, when opportunities for self-promotion have proliferated via social networking. 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,” she says.
For the study 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 likable and as braggarts.
“This shows how often, when we are trying to make a good impression, it backfires,” says George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology in Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“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.”
The researchers believe knowing this could be valuable for both braggers 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,” says Joachim Vosgerau, professor of marketing at Bocconi University.