Humblebragging Makes People Like You Less Than If You Actually Bragged, According To A Study
Well, it’s finally official: Humblebragging is the worst. No, really — a new study has discovered the humblebragging makes people hate you, confirming what most of us had probably already learned from experience. The study, which comes to us courtesy of researchers out of Harvard Business School and the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, found that humblebragging makes people come across as insincere — suggesting that if you’re going to brag, it’s better to be genuine about what it.
An early, working version of the current paper was published back in 2015; now, though, it’s received publication in the peer-reviewed Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It’s notable for being one of the first studies to examine the phenomenon of humblebragging in-depth; even though the term has only been around for a few years, it’s become ubiquitous in that time — and it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon.
The earliest definitions of “humblebrag” appeared on Urban Dictionary on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24, 2011. Both listed the phrase as two separate words (“humble brag”), with the Feb. 23 definition reading, “When you brag about something without even realizing it,” and the Feb. 24 one reading, “A form [of] self-promotion where the promoter thinks he is, almost subliminally, bragging about himself in the context of a humble statement or complaint. Everyone listening thinks he a jackass.” For what it’s worth, Merriam-Webster’s entry on the word actually notes that its first occurrence was way back in 2002 — but alas, no further information about this occurrence is available.
Here is an excellent example of a humblebrag (because let's face it, Ron Burgundy is basically a walking, talking humblebrag in and of himself):
However, the Urban Dictionary definitions line up with the timeline for the coining of the term “humblebrag”: It’s usually credited to comedian and writer Harris Wittels, whose Twitter account, @Humblebrag, was first registered in November of 2010. The account was devoted to retweeting the best examples of humblebragging (which frequently came from celebrities) floating around Twitter. Wittels went on to write a regular column about humblebragging for the now-defunct sports and pop culture site Grantland; the columns appeared between June of 2011 and October of 2012. He also published a book, Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty, in 2012. (Wittels sadly passed away in 2015 at the age of 30.)
For the purposes of the current paper, which encompassed a whopping nine studies, the researchers defined humblebragging as “bragging masked by a complaint or humility” — and somewhat astonishingly, when they surveyed 646 people, a full 70 percent of them remembered hearing a humblebrag by this definition in the recent past. What’s more, 60 percent of the humblebrags people remembered were of the “complaint” variety — things like, “I hate that I look so young; even a 19-year-old hit on me!” (The “humility” variety, meanwhile, encompassed statements like, “Why do I always get asked to work on the most important assignment?”)
In experiments designed to assess how people felt about humblebraggers, it turned out that overall, humblebragging was less effective than regular bragging; not only did humblebragging reduce how much people liked the person doing the bragging and how competent they thought they were, but moreover, it also reduced the likelihood that they would comply with any requests made and financial generosity. Complaint-based humblebrags, however, were the worst: They yielded less than humility-based humblebrags, or even straight-up complaining.
Here is another excellent example of a humblebrag:
“If you want to announce something, go with the brag and at least own your self-promotion and reap the rewards of being sincere, rather than losing in all dimensions,” study author Ovul Sezer recommended to TIME — or just enlist the help of someone else to sing your praises for you. “If someone brags for you,” said Sezer, “that’s the best thing that can happen to you, because then you don’t seem like you’re bragging.”
So there you have it: Trying to downplay what you’ve accomplished doesn’t work if you want people’s opinions of you to soar; instead, be proud of yourself. Everyone deserves to toot their own horn from time to time.