You’ve seen it among a group of friends, the inflated and often irritating “humblebrag.”
Maybe it was even you who did it.
Wanting to seem more important or smarter or wealthier or something, whatever, you blurted out how messy your hair looks as you pull off a Taylor Swift-worthy hair toss of your beautiful, long locks. Or you utter something about how irritating the traffic was Friday as you drove your new Porsche Panamera to your parents’ country house.
Or how you can’t believe you got 1580 on your SATs, especially when you didn’t have time to study because you were volunteering at a homeless shelter.
According to new research, the fake “humblebrag” will boomerang.
“Humblebragging, in fact, does not create more favorable impressions than either bragging or complaining,” according to a study authored by Ovul Sezer recently published in Harvard Business Review.
Because sincerity, the researchers said, is more highly valued than competence or success.
How it’s done
There are two types of humblebragging, explained Sezer, who now teaches at University of North Carolina. One is based in complaining and one tries to feign humility.
“It’s like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so exhausted by all these dating requests, like, everyone just asks me out constantly, even in the grocery store,’” Sezer uses as an example. “Or, ‘I’m so tired of being the one my boss trusts in this company.’
“That’s very annoying to hear,” said Sezer.
The humility-based brag tries to make yourself look humble, but not really. Like saying you can’t believe you got into all your dream schools after being at the top of your class all through high school.
Sezer argues that the humility-based humblebrag is often more subtle and less annoying to peers than the complaint-based humblebrag. But either one is likely to repel rather than attract others.
“Research suggests that sincerity is desirable and is seen as particularly fundamental to people’s identity,” she and Harvard co-authors Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton wrote.
For example, “It lowkey sucks being attractive because then if people don’t like you you know it’s your personality,” reddit user alg0e wrote.
According to Sezer, “The reason why humblebragging fails to pay off, and it’s even worse than just straightforward bragging, is because it comes across as very fake.”
With social media, humblebragging has become more visible and maybe even more acceptable.
“With the digitalization of the world, it became more common everywhere. Now when I go to my Instagram feed or I check my Facebook and Twitter, I know that I will see a humblebrag on that day,” she told VOA. “There is something happening that people will be putting on their profiles, and that makes it seem like it’s okay.”
There are ways that you can be proud of your accomplishments and talk about them without bragging or humblebragging.
“I really think the best way to let others know about your accomplishments is really to get a wingman,” she said, describing someone who will promote and boast for you. “If you [are talking] to someone and they say, ‘Oh, he is amazing!’ or ‘She is just wonderful,’ it’s such a powerful way of knowing about someone’s accomplishments because it’s coming from somebody else, so I would highly recommend that.
“Because imagine, if it’s coming from someone else, it’s just like, more beautiful,” she said.
“If there’s no wingman for you, I would say still avoid the humblebrag,” Sezer said. “Because sincerity is very important in life. We really care about whether the people we interact with are being sincere or not.”