Humblebragging: A Distinct-and Ineffective-Self-Presentation Strategy

by Ovul Sezer, Francesca Gino & Michael I. Norton

Overview — To humblebrag is to make a boast sound like a complaint, as in the example, "It annoys me when people mistake me for a celebrity." Humblebragging is so common in social media and everyday life that one could assume it is an effective self-promotional tactic. Yet five studies show this tactic tends to backfire because it makes other people doubt the sincerity of the humblebragger. Indeed, straightforwardly bragging is the better way to go. The authors of this paper also examine the psychology underlying humblebragging as an impression management tactic and highlight the role of perceived sincerity in impression management.

Author Abstract

Humblebragging-bragging masked by a complaint-is a distinct and, given the rise of social media, increasingly ubiquitous form of self-promotion. We show that although people often choose to humblebrag when motivated to make a good impression, it is an ineffective self-promotional strategy. Five studies offer both correlational and causal evidence that humblebragging has both global costs-reducing liking and perceived sincerity-and specific costs: it is even ineffective in signaling the specific trait that a person wants to promote. Moreover, humblebragging is less effective than simply complaining, because complainers are at least seen as sincere. Despite people's belief that combining bragging and complaining confers the benefits of both self-promotion strategies, humblebragging fails to pay off.

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