Evolution Study Shows Why Feeling Proud Is Key to Human Survival

Imagine that it’s 70,000 years ago and you’re living with a band of other ancient humans. You’re pretty good at making hand axes, which is clutch in this crowd. But one day you fall ill, and you have no way of getting food this week. Do you sit by and hope Oogh brings you some grub, or do you bring up the fact that, as the local hand axe master, it’s in everyone’s best interest that you don’t die? According to a paper recently released in PNAS, being proud of your talents is key to human survival.

In the new study, the researchers underscore the evolutionary importance of pride. Because it proved to be so beneficial to the survival of our ancestors, they argue, pride is built into our species’ biology. The idea is that pride, described in the paper as a “neural system,” increases an individual’s self-esteem, which in turn increases that individual’s status in the eyes others. Having that status, the University of Montreal and University of California Santa Barbara researchers argue, increases the likelihood that the local community will help you withstand hardships.

Other researchers have suggested this theory before, but in an effort to show that pride really is a part of human nature, the team investigated pride in 567 people from 10 different small-scale societies in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. If people of these varying cultures similarly valued pride as an emotion, they write, it would indicate that pride is a “panhuman adaption”:

If there is a human-universal system of social valuation, then scenarios that tap this system may elicit agreement across cultures about what is worthy of valuation and pride, and pride in a given culture may track valuation in other cultures, despite a lack of contact between them.

There's an evolutionary reason why you should celebrate yourself.

The team randomly split the participants into an “audience” group or a “pride” group, both of which watched ten scenarios involving pride-inducing statements, like “This person has many skills” or “This person can defend themselves, so people would never push them around.” In the “audience” group, participants were asked how positively they would rate the person in the scenario, but in the “pride” group, participants were asked to see themselves in the role of and indicate how much pride they would have felt in those situations.

Across cultures, people agreed on the extent to which a situation would elicit pride as well as on the notion that feeling pride in those situations was a positive thing. This, the researchers explain, demonstrates that diverse cultures and ecologies share the same “pride-valuation relationship.”

This research adds to the growing body of evidence that pride is a basic emotion that humans have evolved to feel. “In all my work, I’ve argued for (and found support for) the evolutionary adaptiveness of pride,” Jessica Tracy, Ph.D. a University of British Columbia professor of psychology who was not involved in this research but has extensively studied pride, tells Inverse>

Her research has demonstrated that pride is a universal, adaptive part of human nature, and she argues that it is a basic human emotion evolved to serve a social role. In her book Take Pride, Tracy argues that while the dark side of pride is well known, it can boost creativity, motivate altruism, and generate prestige when used properly. Avoiding “bad” pride, like being too proud to admit mistakes, and nurturing the good type appears to have primed — and continues to prime — humans for success.

Photos via Giphy, Screengrab via ecuagol.com

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