“Hair’s not done, just rolled out of bed from a nap and still get hit on, so confusing!” (Gif: Funny of Die on Giphy)
If you’ve been anywhere near social media, well, ever, you’ve encountered humblebragging. It’s when someone in your life — a family member, a friend, even a celebrity — attempts to mask a brag as a complaint, to evoke sympathy while also slipping in a little nugget of information to make everyone else jealous. Here are some prime examples, collected from the aptly-named Twitter account, @Humblebrag:
But a new series of studies from Harvard University has called humblebragging into question, finding that it doesn’t pay off.
For the studies, researchers from Harvard sought to determine whether humblebragging was an effective self-promotional strategy. They conducted five studies that measured reactions to false modesty — including comments made on social media such as “Hair’s not done, just rolled out of bed from a nap and still get hit on, so confusing!” and “Graduating from 2 universities means you get double the calls asking for money/donations. So pushy and annoying!” — as well as determined how likely participants were to humblebrag in particular situations.
What they discovered: Humblebragging actually made people less likeable than those who all-out brag or complain, and also made them seem insincere.
Researcher Francesca Gino, PhD, a professor of business administration at Harvard, tells Yahoo Health that she found the results “surprising.” “It is as if people are thinking: If you have something good to say about yourself, just go ahead and say it without trying to cover it up,” she says.
People humblebrag to try to make a good impression without appearing vain, but they’re often perceived as being just that. So why do we keep doing it?
Blame social media, says licensed clinical psychologist Alicia Clark, PsyD. “Social media can provoke feelings of insecurity, and often pulls for competition,” she tells Yahoo Health. “People may feel compelled to post accomplishments in order to be liked, and the interpersonal disconnection of social media can amplify the willingness to do this.”
Clark points out that humblebraggers try to get people’s sympathy as well and use it as an attempt to offset jealousy — but it often backfires. “This mixed message (admire me, but also feel sorry for me) feels like manipulation, and puts people off,” she says.
Humblebragging has become so popular because we’re conflicted about wanting to promote ourselves and be modest — and both are highly valued qualities, says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Thus, a balance between the two is likely most adaptive,” he explains to Yahoo Health.
But humblebragging has also risen in popularity because of our discomfort with bragging. Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of all-out bragging, even to the point that we become nervous about sharing good news, says Clark. While some people feel more vulnerable sharing good news than they do sharing something bad, she points out that people who support us will be happy to celebrate our accomplishments.
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Not sure what sort of message you’re about to convey? A good way to distinguish whether you’re about to brag, humblebrag, or just share good news is to gauge how you feel about it. “If you are more concerned about instilling jealousy in others than sharing your joy, something is off,” Clark says. And, if you feel tempted to brag, she says the best way to go is to share your feelings first. For example, “I’m so excited to go on vacation to Bora Bora” will probably be better received than “Ugh, the flight to Bora Bora takes forever.”
Gino agrees, and says people should just strive to be themselves. “We find that being authentic in our interactions with others make us less anxious and more likely to create connections that last,” she says.
So really, humblebragging helps no one. It’s about time we returned to good old-fashioned bragging.