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Humblebragging: A Distinct And Ineffective Self-Presentation Strategy

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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 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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Humblebragging: A Distinct—and Ineffective—Self-Presentation Strategy
Ovul Sezer
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton
Harvard Business School
Self-presentation is a fundamental aspect of social life, with myriad critical outcomes dependent on
others’ impressions. We identify and offer the first empirical investigation of a prevalent, yet under-
studied, self-presentation strategy: humblebragging. Across 9 studies, including a week-long diary study
and a field experiment, we identify humblebragging— bragging masked by a complaint or humility—as
a common, conceptually distinct, and ineffective form of self-presentation. We first document the
ubiquity of humblebragging across several domains, from everyday life to social media. We then show
that both forms of humblebragging— complaint-based or humility-based—are less effective than
straightforward bragging, as they reduce liking, perceived competence, compliance with requests, and
financial generosity. Despite being more common, complaint-based humblebrags are less effective than
humility-based humblebrags, and are even less effective than simply complaining. We show that people
choose to deploy humblebrags particularly when motivated to both elicit sympathy and impress others.
Despite the belief that combining bragging with complaining or humility confers the benefits of each
strategy, we find that humblebragging confers the benefits of neither, instead backfiring because it is seen
as insincere.
Keywords: humblebragging, impression management, self-presentation, interpersonal perception, sincerity
Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often
only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.
—Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Self-presentation is an inherent and defining characteristic of
social interaction (Goffman, 1959). The ability to present oneself
effectively to others is one of the most essential skills in social life:
Countless material and social rewards depend on others’ percep-
tions of us (Baumeister, 1982; Hogan, 1983; Schlenker, 1980).
From romantic relationships to occupational success, making a
favorable impression influences many important long-term out-
comes (Gilmore & Ferris, 1989; Leary, 1995; Leary & Kowalski,
1990; Schlenker, 1975; Schlenker & Leary, 1982; Tedeschi, 1981;
Wayne & Kacmar, 1991; Wayne & Liden, 1995). Moreover,
engaging in self-presentation and trying to make a favorable im-
pression can help individuals achieve self-fulfillment (Cohen,
1959; Rogers & Dymond, 1954), boost self-esteem (Jones, Rho-
dewalt, Berglas, & Skelton, 1981), improve self-evaluations
(Baumeister, 1982), and trigger positive emotions (Scopelliti, Loe-
wenstein, & Vosgerau, 2015).
Given the importance of self-presentation, people attend closely
to how they present themselves in social interactions (Goffman,
1959) and engage in a variety of tactics to manage their impres-
sions (Jones, 1990; Jones & Pittman, 1982; Leary, 1995). Anec-
dotal evidence from presidential debates to job interviews to social
networking sites (Alford, 2012; Filler, 2015) suggests that humble-
bragging— bragging masked by complaint or humility— has
become a distinct and pervasive form of self-presentation, as in the
following examples: “It is so exhausting to keep up with the media
requests after I published in JPSP!”; “I am so tired of being the
only person that my boss could trust to train the new employees”;
“Just been asked to give a talk at Oxford. I’m more surprised than
you are”; “I can’t believe they all thought of me to nominate for
this award and want me to give a talk in front of thousands of
people.”
The increasing ubiquity of humblebragging suggests that people
believe it will be effective; we suggest that it often backfires.
Across nine studies, we investigate the psychology and effective-
ness of humblebragging as a self-presentation strategy. Although
previous research on self-presentation has identified strategies that
are specifically aimed at attempting either to be liked or gain
respect (Jones & Pittman, 1982; Rosenfeld, Giacalone, & Riordan,
1995; Tedeschi & Melburg, 1984), much less is known about
strategies that are aimed at eliciting both. We identify humble-
bragging as a self-presentation strategy that aims to fulfill this dual
purpose simultaneously: People believe that humblebragging al-
lows them to highlight their positive qualities and convey compe-
tence with a brag, while enabling them to elicit liking by masking
their self-aggrandizing statements in a complaint or humility.
Building on the self-presentation and social perception litera-
tures, we conceptualize that humblebragging is used to generate
liking and convey competence simultaneously but fails to do both,
because humblebraggers may overlook the impact of the strategy
on another critical dimension of social evaluation: sincerity. Per-
Ovul Sezer, Department of Organizational Behavior, Kenan-Flagler
Business School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Francesca
Gino, Department of Negotiation, Organizations & Markets, Harvard Busi-
ness School; Michael I. Norton, Department of Marketing, Harvard Busi-
ness School.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ovul
Sezer, Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill, Campus Box 3490, McColl Building, Chapel Hill, NC 27599.
E-mail: ovulsezer@gmail.com
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology © 2017 American Psychological Association
2017, Vol. 0, No. 999, 000 0022-3514/17/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000108
1
ceived sincerity is a critical factor in determining the success of
self-presentation, with perceived insincerity driving negative eval-
uations (Eastman, 1994; Giacalone & Rosenfeld, 1986; Jones &
Pittman, 1982; Nguyen, Seers, & Hartman, 2008). In short, we
suggest that despite its prevalence, humblebragging may be inef-
fective in making a favorable impression because of the perceived
insincerity it generates—with this lack of perceived sincerity driv-
ing lower evaluations.
Fundamental Desires to Be Liked and Respected
Self-presentation is an attempt to establish a favorable image in
the eyes of others (Goffman, 1959; Jones & Wortman, 1973;
Schlenker, 1980). The motive to be viewed positively by others is
a fundamental, powerful, and important driver of human behavior
(Baumeister, 1982; Leary & Kowalski, 1990; Sedikides, 1993;
Tetlock, 2002), as countless social and material rewards (social
approval, friendships, career advancement) depend on others’ im-
pressions (Gilmore & Ferris, 1989; Leary, 1995; Schlenker, 1975;
Stevens & Kristof, 1995; Wayne & Ferris, 1990). In his seminal
work, Goffman (1959) recognized self-presentation as an integral
aspect of social interaction, arguing that individuals consciously
alter their self-presentation to meet distinct goals.
The motives underlying self-presentation emerge from one of
two key motives (Baumeister, 1982; Newcomb, 1960; Zivnuska,
Kacmar, Witt, Carlson, & Bratton, 2004): the desire to gain fa-
vorability and be liked (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Buss, 1983;
Heider, 1958; Hill, 1987; Jones, 1964), and the desire to convey
competence and be respected (Baryła, 2014; Bergsieker, Shelton,
& Richeson, 2010; Godfrey, Jones, & Lord, 1986; Jones, Gergen,
Gumpert, & Thibaut, 1965; Pontari & Schlenker, 2006; Rubin,
1973; Wojciszke, Abele, & Baryla, 2009). Indeed, social percep-
tion research suggests that social judgments involve two basic,
universal, and independent dimensions (Abelson, Kinder, Peters,
& Fiske, 1982; Asch, 1946; Wojciszke et al., 2009), such as
agency and communion (Bakan, 1966), competence and morality
(Wojciszke, 2005), intellectual and social desirability (Rosenberg,
Nelson, & Vivekananthan, 1968), or competence and warmth
(Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002). Although these related con-
structs have distinct definitions, these formulations are similar
(Judd, James-Hawkins, Yzerbyt, & Kashima, 2005), in that one
dimension (communion, social desirability, morality, warmth) re-
lates to the interpersonal goal of liking, whereas the other (agency,
intellectual desirability, and competence) relates to the interper-
sonal goal of respect.
In everyday life, there are many settings in which both strategic
goals coexist and both desires are fused (Godfrey et al., 1986), but
validation by others on each dimension is of critical importance to
people (Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1982). Understandably, individ-
uals are generally concerned about how others perceive them on
multiple dimensions (Leary, Allen, & Terry, 2011), because ob-
servers simultaneously judge targets on more than one dimension
(Cialdini & DeNicholas, 1989). But being simultaneously liked
and seen as competent is not easy; indeed, projecting likability and
communicating competence entail different strategies (Fiske &
Neuberg, 1990; Joiner, Vohs, Katz, Kwon, & Kline, 2003; Rud-
man, 1998). To fulfill the desire to be liked, people generally
engage in an array of self-presentation tactics that are designed to
validate others or elicit sympathy from them (Jones & Pittman,
1982; Wayne & Liden, 1995; Zivnuska et al., 2004), whereas to be
respected, individuals usually employ strategies to convince their
targets of their competence (Godfrey et al., 1986; Jones & Pittman,
1982; Wayne & Liden, 1995).
Strategies in the Pursuit of Liking
Most self-presentation strategies that are designed to elicit liking
and sympathy are other-focused tactics (Bolino, Kacmar, Turnley,
& Gilstrap, 2008; Jones, 1964; Jones & Pittman, 1982; Wayne &
Liden, 1995; Zivnuska et al., 2004). For instance, people often use
other-enhancement statements, such as flattery or praise (Jones &
Pittman, 1982; Kacmar, Bozeman, Carlson, & Anthony, 1999), to
encourage recipients to view them in a favorable light (Chan &
Sengupta, 2010; Fogg & Nass, 1997; Gordon, 1996; Vonk, 2002,
2007; Wayne & Kacmar, 1991; Westphal & Stern, 2007). Simi-
larly, people may engage in other target-focused behaviors such as
performing favors or agreeing with others’ opinions to elicit liking
(Bohra & Pandey, 1984; Zivnuska et al., 2004). In their seminal
work, Jones and Wortman (1973) categorized these other-focused
strategies in pursuit of liking as ingratiation—strategic behaviors
that are designed to influence another person regarding the attrac-
tiveness of an individual’s personal qualities that concern his
likability. According to their taxonomy, ingratiating behaviors
include other-enhancement, praise, rendering favors, opinion con-
formity, and various indirect forms of self-descriptions of attribu-
tions for achievement, including displaying humility.
Humility. Indeed, displaying humility is a common self-
presentation strategy that is both other-focused and can inspire
liking from targets (Davis, Worthington, & Hook, 2010; Jones &
Wortman, 1973; Weidman, Cheng, & Tracy, 2016). To appear
humble, people may glorify the accomplishments of others and
give credit to them (Cialdini, Finch, & DeNicholas, 1990; Stires &
Jones, 1969; Tetlock, 1980), or shift credit for their successes away
from themselves to external factors, such as luck or help from
others (Weiner, Russell, & Lerman, 1979; Zuckerman, 1979).
Importantly, prior research suggests that attempts to appear hum-
ble indeed can be used as an effective self-presentation tactic to
increase liking (Baumeister & Jones, 1978; Schlenker & Leary,
1982): When actors underrepresent their positive qualities or ac-
complishments (Cialdini & DeNicholas, 1989) or when they defer
credit for success (Hareli & Weiner, 2000; Tetlock, 1980), they are
better liked (Baumeister & Ilko, 1995; Bond, Leung, & Wan,
1982; Forsyth, Berger, & Mitchell, 1981; Schneider, 1969; Wosin-
ska, Dabul, Whetstone-Dion, & Cialdini, 1996).
Lack of superiority in assessment of one’s abilities and strengths,
ability to acknowledge limitations, and lack of self-enhancement
and egotism about one’s successes constitute the core characteris-
tics of humility (Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2013; Davis et al.,
2010; Gregg, Hart, Sedikides, & Kumashiro, 2008; Kesebir, 2014;
Kruse, Chancellor, Ruberton, & Lyubomirsky, 2014; Owens,
Johnson, & Mitchell, 2013; Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Saroglou,
Buxant, & Tilquin, 2008; Van Tongeren, Davis, & Hook, 2014;
Weidman et al., 2016). Such displays of humility are often per-
ceived positively by recipients and observers, because the humble
self-presenter reduces any threat by avoiding self-aggrandizing
statements and displaying his willingness to recognize others’
accomplishments (Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2013; Davis et al.,
2010; Jones & Wortman, 1973; Tangney, 2000). In other words,
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2SEZER, GINO, AND NORTON
when actors are humble, they reduce the risk of social comparison
or threat that observers may feel—thereby inspiring liking (Brick-
man & Seligman, 1974; Schlenker & Leary, 1982; Tetlock, 1980;
Wosinska et al., 1996). Appearing humble can also send a desir-
able prosocial signal to others (being other-oriented and unselfish;
Davis & Hook, 2014), which, in turn, promotes likability (Davis et
al., 2013).
Complaining. Although people who repeatedly complain are
labeled as “chronic complainers” and face negative interpersonal
consequences (Yalom, 1985), when used infrequently, complain-
ing can provide self-presentational benefits. First, complaining can
be used to solicit sympathy and communicate a likable image
(Alicke et al., 1992; Jones & Pittman, 1982; Kowalski, 1996,
2002); for example, people may complain about being tired, feel-
ing sick, or being overwhelmed, which can allow them to gain
sympathy and receive help from others (Leary & Miller, 1986;
Skelton & Pennebaker, 1982; Smith, Snyder, & Perkins, 1983;
Snyder & Smith, 1982). Second, complaining can also be used to
express relational intimacy, which, in turn, conveys a level of
closeness and trust—and thus engenders liking (Kowalski & Er-
ickson, 1997). Indeed, because people typically complain to their
close friends or partners, complaining can signal a level of special
closeness in a relationship (Kowalski, 2002). Finally, complaining
can be used as a social bonding tool; for example, if Brad
complains to Jane about their boss, Jane may also complain to
express similarity, thereby inducing liking (Brehm, 1992; Ko-
walski, 2002).
In sum, the desire to seem likable leads individuals to engage in
variety of “other-focused” tactics (Jones & Pittman, 1982; Jones &
Wortman, 1973; Wayne & Liden, 1995). Most relevant to the
present research, appearing humble and complaining—the two
means by which people attempt to mask their bragging when
deploying a humblebrag— can be used strategically to inspire
liking from a target.
Strategies in the Pursuit of Respect
In addition to attempting to elicit liking, individuals are also
deeply concerned about whether perceivers think highly of them:
Attempting to gain respect for one’s competence is a fundamental
driver of social behavior (Jones et al., 1965; Leary & Kowalski,
1990; Tetlock & Manstead, 1985). This motivation is distinct from
the desire to be liked (Gardner & Martinko, 1988; Godfrey et al.,
1986) and necessitates different self-presentation strategies (God-
frey et al., 1986; Jones & Wortman, 1973; Tedeschi & Norman,
1985). In particular, these strategies aim to enhance observers’
view of one’s competence and elicit their respect (Zivnuska et al.,
2004).
People often emphasize positive attributes through self-promotion
in order to convey competence (Baumeister & Jones, 1978; Sch-
neider, 1969). For example, individuals may brag about their accom-
plishments, successes, and unique characteristics (Giacalone &
Rosenfeld, 1986), may bring their superior qualities, talents, and
strengths to others’ attention (Jones & Pittman, 1982; Leary et al.,
2011), and may assign favorable traits and abilities to themselves
by publicly making internal rather than external attributions for
achievements (Joiner et al., 2003; Quattrone & Jones, 1978;
Schlenker, 1975). Such self-promotion is particularly common in
situations in which an audience does not know about an actor’s
qualities and successes (Baumeister & Jones, 1978; Jones & Wort-
man, 1973; Schlenker, 1975); for example, people consistently
present themselves in a self-promoting way when they interact
with a target for the first time (Tice, Butler, Muraven, & Stillwell,
1995). People engage in self-promotion to appear competent (God-
frey et al., 1986; Rudman, 1998), to augment their perceived status
(Holoien & Fiske, 2013; Swencionis & Fiske, 2016), and to earn
others’ respect (Bergsieker et al., 2010; Pontari & Schlenker, 2006;
Wojciszke et al., 2009).
Individuals highlight, emphasize, or exaggerate their successes
in a self-enhancing manner in a number of ways (Hoorens, Pan-
delaere, Oldersma, & Sedikides, 2012; Sedikides & Gregg, 2008).
In addition to bragging, they may provide biographical narratives,
social anecdotes, and other forms of conversation as evidence of
their success (Dayter, 2014; Dunbar, Marriott, & Duncan, 1997;
Emler, 1994), or increase their perceived responsibility for a
favorable event by claiming credit, a self-presentation strategy
known as entitlement (Tedeschi & Norman, 1985). Because self-
promotion in response to a question is perceived to be more
appropriate and favorable than direct bragging (Tal-Or, 2010),
people may even create contexts to boast by directing the conver-
sation in a direction that makes it appropriate to highlight accom-
plishments. In short, people use a variety of tactics to convey their
competence and gain respect.
Combining Bragging With Complaint or Humility
Given that appearing humble, complaining, and bragging offer
distinct self-presentational benefits, it seems possible that combin-
ing them offers a “sweet spot” for self-presentation, as in this
example of combining bragging with humility, “I can’t believe
they all thought of me to nominate for this award and want me to
give a talk in front of thousands of people,” and this example of
combining bragging with complaining, “Graduating from two uni-
versities means you get double the calls asking for money/dona-
tions. So pushy and annoying!”
This unique form of self-presentation— humblebragging—
seemingly allows actors to highlight positive qualities (being nom-
inated for an award, graduating from two universities) while at-
tempting to elicit liking and sympathy by masking these positive
qualities in humility (disbelieving the nomination) or in a com-
plaint (feeling annoyed).
The Role of Sincerity: Self-Presentation as a
Balancing Act
However, successful self-presentation involves maintaining a
delicate balance between being liked and conveying competence
(Schlenker & Leary, 1982). A lack of self-promotion can be costly
if it leaves observers unaware of the actor’s accomplishments or
positive qualities (Collins & Stukas, 2008; Farkas & Anderson,
1976; Vohs, Baumeister, & Ciarocco, 2005). At the same time,
people who brag run the risk of appearing conceited or self-
promoting (Powers & Zuroff, 1988; Tice et al., 1995): Emphasiz-
ing positive qualities and successes can lead observers to regard an
actor as competent but less likable (Carlston & Shovar, 1983;
Sadalla, Kenrick, & Vershure, 1987), especially when people
volunteer favorable statements about themselves that are unsolic-
ited (Holtgraves & Srull, 1989).
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3
HUMBLEBRAGGING
Given the difficulty of striking the right balance, people often
seek to present their qualities and accomplishments indirectly
(Schlenker & Weigold, 1992). We identify humblebragging as an
understudied yet ubiquitous indirect strategy that attempts to mask
a brag in the guise of a complaint or humility: We propose that
people combine bragging and complaining or humility in an effort
to simultaneously fulfill their fundamental desires to be liked and
respected, thereby managing the delicate balancing act. We sug-
gest, however, that humblebragging, in fact, does not create more
favorable impressions than either bragging or complaining, be-
cause of humblebraggers’ failure to realize that the strategy im-
pacts perceptions on another dimension critical to social evalua-
tion: perceived sincerity.
Indeed, research suggests that people can prize sincerity even
above competence and warmth in others; research suggests that
sincerity is desirable and is seen as particularly fundamental to
people’s identity (Brambilla, Rusconi, Sacchi, & Cherubini, 2011;
Goodwin, Piazza, & Rozin, 2014; Leach, Ellemers, & Barreto,
2007). In the context of self-presentation, perceived sincerity ex-
erts significant weight in impression formation (Jones & Pittman,
1982; Liden & Mitchell, 1988). Research in organizational con-
texts also highlights the importance of integrity—the quality that
reflects an individual’s reputation for honesty or sincerity (Bram-
billa et al., 2011; Brambilla, Sacchi, Rusconi, Cherubini, & Yzer-
byt, 2012; Butler, 1991; Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995).
In fact, the success of self-presentation efforts often hinges on
the perceived sincerity of that attempt (Eastman, 1994; Giacalone
& Rosenfeld, 1986): When targets feel that actors’ efforts to elicit
desired impressions are insincere, self-presentation efforts can fail
(Crant, 1996; Nguyen et al., 2008; Turnley & Bolino, 2001). The
actor needs to conceal the ulterior motive to be liked or perceived
as competent, or to make a favorable impression, to be seen as
sincere (Jones & Pittman, 1982).
In sum, we explore whether humblebragging—a strategy that
appears to achieve the desired balancing act in self-presentation of
electing liking and respect—in fact may backfire because of the
negative impact on perceptions of an overlooked dimension: sin-
cerity.
Overview of Research
We tested our account in nine studies. We first document the
ubiquity of humblebragging across several domains: a nationally
representative U.S. sample (Study 1a), a week-long diary study
(Study 1b), and in social media (Study 1c). We provide evidence
for the construct, documenting that humblebragging appears in
complaint-based and humility-based forms. Study 2 explores the
effectiveness of humblebragging against bragging, and demon-
strates that humblebragging influences behavior, causing individ-
uals to be treated less positively compared with straightforward
bragging. Study 3a shows that both forms of humblebragging—
complaint-based or humility-based—are less effective than straight-
forward bragging, as they reduce liking and perceived competence.
Interestingly, complaint-based humblebragging (despite being the
most common type of humblebragging) is even less effective than
humility-based humblebragging, simply bragging or even simply
complaining (Study 3b). Study 4a and 4b examine whether people’s
dislike of humblebraggers elicits less generosity. Study 5 explores
whether people choose to humblebrag in a strategic effort to elicit
both liking and respect, and again assesses the effectiveness of that
choice. Across the studies, we assess the mechanisms underlying
humblebragging, investigating whether humblebraggers are liked less
than complainers and braggers because they are seen as less sincere.
Study 1a: Humblebragging in Everyday Life
Study 1a documented and differentiates types of humblebrags
deployed in everyday life. First, we expected humblebragging to
be common. Second, we examined whether—as our definition
suggests— humblebrags take two forms: bragging masked by ei-
ther complaint or humility.
Method
Participants. We recruited 646 participants (M
age
!45.53,
SD !14.43; 49.5% female) from a U.S. nationally representative
sample from a Qualtrics research panel.
Design and procedure. Participants read initial instructions
welcoming them to the study and answered demographic questions
(gender and age). Participants were then informed that they would
answer a few questions about humblebrags, and were provided
with the following examples: “I am tired of people mistaking me
for a model”; “I can’t believe they wanted me to be a spokesman
for the group”; “I work so fast that I am bored the rest of the day”;
and “Why do people hit on me even without make up?”
After offering these examples, we asked participants whether
they could think of someone they know (a friend, family member,
acquaintance, coworker) who engaged in a humblebrag. We in-
formed them that the humblebrag might have been said in person,
on a phone call, typed in an e-mail, or posted on social media
(Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) If participants reported that
they could recall a humblebrag, we asked them to write down the
example of the most recent humblebrag that they heard.
We asked five independent coders— blind to our hypotheses—to
analyze the content of the participants’ open-ended responses and
identify whether humblebrags were complaint-based or humility-
based. We provided coders with the definition of complaint and
humility, based on the prior literature: A complaint is an expres-
sion of dissatisfaction or annoyance (Alberts, 1988; Alicke et al.,
1992; Kowalski, 2002); humility is a lack of superiority in assess-
ment of one’s abilities and strengths (Davis et al., 2010; Kesebir,
2014; Kruse et al., 2014; Owens et al., 2013; Peterson & Seligman,
2004; Saroglou et al., 2008; Weidman et al., 2016). The coders
agreed 91.8% of the time about the type of humblebrag (416 of
453) and resolved disagreements through discussion. We also
asked coders to identify thematic categories of humblebrags. When
coders decided on a final set of categories, they reread responses
and indicated which category best suited each response.
Next, participants indicated how long ago they heard the
humblebrag (within the last 3 days, between 3 and 7 days ago,
between 1 week and 1 month ago). Then, participants reported
their relationship to the person whose humblebrag they recalled
and identified this person’s age and gender.
Results
Frequency of humblebragging in everyday life. Humbleb-
ragging was ubiquitous in everyday life. The majority of partici-
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4SEZER, GINO, AND NORTON
pants could recall a humblebrag: 70.1% of participants (453 of
646) reported a humblebrag.
Types of humblebrags. Coders identified that 58.9% of
humblebrags (267 of 453) were complaint-based and conveyed
dissatisfaction or annoyance, and 41.1% of humblebrags (186 of
453) were humility-based, in which speakers expressed lack of
superiority in their assessments of their abilities and strengths.
Topics of humblebrags. Table 1a shows the categorization of
complaint-based and humility-based humblebrags, with examples.
Across both types of humblebrags, eight distinct topic categories
Table 1
Topics and Examples of Complaint-Based and Humility-Based Humblebrags in Studies 1a and 1b
Complaint-based humblebrags Humility-based humblebrags
Categories Examples Categories Examples
Study 1a
Looks and attractiveness
(34.5%)
“I lost so much weight I need to get new clothes,
on top of all things I need to do.”
Looks and attractiveness
(39.8%)
“I don’t understand why every customer
compliments me on my looks.”
Money and wealth
(18.4%)
“It is so hard to choose between Lexus and
BMW.”
Achievements (17.7%) “I can’t understand why I won the
employee of the month.”
Performance at work
(15.4%)
“He said, ‘I am so tired of being the only person
at the company that my boss could trust to train
the new employees.’”
Performance at work
(11.3%)
“Why do I always get asked to work on
the most important assignment?”
Intelligence (9.0%) “He tends to do this quite often, enough that it’s
starting becoming annoying. Just things like ‘I
hate being right all the time’ and things of that
nature.”
Skills (8.6%) “Why do people think I am a tech
wizard?”
Personality (7.1%) “I am tired of being the thoughtful and kind
person all the time.”
Money and wealth
(7.5%)
“I do not know why everyone is so
jealous of my new car.”
Achievements (6.7%) “I decided this year to do a less interesting
project, I can’t win first place all the time. I
need to let other people win this year, they get
angry. You get too much attention if you are a
star.”
Intelligence (7.5%) “Why do people ask me if I’m from Ivy
League school?”
Skills (5.2%) “I’m fed up with people praising my parenting
skills. My kids are healthy and happy. That’s
all that matters.”
Personality (5.9%) “He thinks I’m super hot, and smart, so
weird.”
Social life (3.7%) “I never have time for myself because all my
friends want me to spend time with them.”
Social life (1.6%) “I can’t believe people are making such
a big deal out of my birthday party.”
Study 1b
Looks and attractiveness
(29.5%)
“I hate that I look so young even a 19 year old hit
on me.”
Looks and attractiveness
(35.9%)
“I don’t understand why people hit on
me when I spend 10 minutes getting
ready.”
Social life (14.8%) “It’s hard to get anything done because he wants
to spend so much time with me.”
Performance at work
(20.4%)
“My boyfriend recently got a raise at
work even though he’s only been
working there for less than a year. He
said, ‘I don’t know why I got a raise
when people have been working there
longer than I have.’”
Performance at work
(14.8%)
“He mentioned that his boss told them it was hard
to believe him and him brother were related
because he works hard and his brother doesn’t.
He was complaining about his brother but
bragged about himself in the process, he was
also saying ‘I don’t like it when my boss says
nice things in front of others.’”
Achievements (16.5%) “After receiving an award at work my
coworker said ‘I’m just a nurse that
loves her patients. I am very
surprised. I am just doing my job.’”
Achievements (14.1%) “When I found out that I actually got an offer
from here and I got another offer from another
job on the same day, it was the worst.”
Skills (15.5%) “I don’t know why my friends are
always asking me to sing for them. I
don’t sound that great.”
Money and wealth
(12.1%)
“My coworker was talking about the new car that
he plans to buy and he cannot choose which
color because all looks great on a convertible
BMW.”
Personality (5.8%) “A co-worker said ‘I don’t know how
the rumor got out that I am so
hardworking.’”
Personality (12.1%) “My co-worker gave himself a pat on the back: ‘It
is so hard for me not to intervene and find a
solution, I am such a problem solver. It takes
my time but I can’t help it.’”
Social life (4.9%) “I went to the headquarters and met
with the CEO and all those guys, it
was unbelievable.”
Skills (2.7%) “It is hard to be a fast learner especially on
training days because after the first couple
hours I already get things.”
Money and wealth
(1.0%)
“I can’t believe it but I’ve been a
member since the 80s, nobody had
those back then, they used to have
champagne in those lounges—my
friend is talking about some exclusive
club.”
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5
HUMBLEBRAGGING
emerged: looks and attractiveness (36.6%), money and wealth
(13.9%), performance at work (13.7%), achievements (11.3%),
intelligence (8.4%), skills (6.6%), personality (6.6%), and social
life (2.9%).
Relationship with the humblebragger. Participants received
both types of humblebrags from other people in their lives across
many different contexts. The majority of humblebrags were from
friends (35.90%), followed by coworkers (20.3%), family mem-
bers (20.1%), acquaintances (18.8%), and others (4.9%).
Demographic characteristics of the humblebragger. Partici-
pants reported that 51% of the humblebrags (231 of 453) that they
heard were from men, and 49% (222 of 453) of the humblebrags
were from women. The average age of the person who engaged in
humblebragging was 38.38 years (SD !12.38).
Recency of the humblebrag. Regarding recency of the humble-
brag, 24.3% of the humblebrags were heard within the last 3 days,
29.1% between 3 and 7 days ago, 18.45% between 1 week and 1
month ago, and 28.1% from more than a month ago.
Discussion
These findings offer initial evidence that humblebragging is
common in everyday life across several domains and offer support
for our conceptual definition: Humblebragging is bragging masked
by either complaint or humility.
Study 1b: Humblebragging in a Diary Study
Although Study 1a suggests that humblebrags are common, it
relies on memory of previous conversations. To gain an even
finer-grained picture of the ubiquity of humblebragging, Study 1b
used an experience-sampling procedure, asking participants if they
witnessed a humblebrag on each day—Monday through Friday— of 1
week. We also further validated the distinctiveness of the two
types of humblebrags by asking raters to code them on the extent
to which the target was bragging, complaining, and trying to
appear humble.
Method
Participants. One hundred thirteen participants (M
age
!
33.93, SD !11.06; 68.4% female) from a research panel com-
pleted the study. Participants needed to be older than 18 years of
age, proficient in English, and owner of a smartphone with web
access. Prior to beginning data collection, we targeted recruitment
of approximately 100 individuals by the end of the week, based on
our intuition that this would provide us with sufficient examples of
humblebrags. Three participants did not fill out the survey on
Wednesday and Friday, leaving us with 110 data points for those
days; one participant did not fill out the survey on Thursday,
giving us 112 data points for that day.
Design and procedure. In the experience-sampling phase,
participants received a text message on their mobile phones via a
web application (Surveysignal.com; Hofmann & Patel, 2015).
Participants received one daily signal via smartphone at 4:00 p.m.,
local time. Once they clicked the link on the text message on their
phones, participants were informed that they would answer a few
questions about humblebrags. Similar to Study 1a, without giving
any definition, we provided them with some examples of humble-
brags: “I am tired of people mistaking me for a model”; “I can’t
believe they wanted me to be a spokesman for the group”; “I work
so fast that I am bored the rest of the day”; and “Why do people
hit on me even without makeup?”
We asked participants to think back over the last 24 hr and
identify whether they witnessed someone that they knew (a friend,
family member, acquaintance, coworker, etc.) engage in a humble-
brag in that time. We informed them that they might have said it
in person, on a phone call, typed it in an e-mail, or posted on social
media. If so, we asked participants to write down the example of
the humblebrag that they witnessed on that day. If not, we asked
them to enter three items that they ate and drank for lunch on that
day, in order to control for time spent regardless of whether they
entered a humblebrag or not. Participants followed the same pro-
cedure Monday through Friday.
We asked three independent coders to analyze the content of the
participants’ open-ended responses and identify whether humble-
brags were complaint-based or humility-based. The interrater re-
liability was high (Cohen’s kappa ["]#.80). The coders agreed
94.8% of the time about the type of humblebrag (239 of 252
entries) and resolved disagreements through discussion. We again
asked coders to identify thematic categories of humblebrags. When
coders decided on a final set of categories, they reread responses
and indicated which category best suited each response.
To analyze the extent to which the speakers were trying to brag,
complain, or appear humble, we recruited four additional coders.
They independently rated responses to the following questions on
7-point scales: “To what extent do you think this person is brag-
ging?” (1 !not at all,7!very much); “To what extent do you
think this person is complaining?” (1 !not at all,7!very much);
and “To what extent do you think this person is trying to appear
humble?” (1 !not at all,7!very much). We averaged ratings to
create composite measures for bragging, complaining and trying to
appear humble ($s!.60, .77, and .70).
Results
Frequency of humblebragging over the course of a week.
Humblebragging was common over the course of the week: The
average percentage of participants reporting witnessing at least one
humblebrag that day across all days was 45.09%, ranging from
30.9% (on Friday) to 60.2% (on Monday). And the average num-
ber reported by participants across the week was 2.12, with only
8.85% of participants failing to report a single humblebrag over the
course of the week.
Types of humblebrags. As in Study 1a, the majority of the
humblebrags were complaint-based: 59.1% compared with 40.9%
humility-based.
Topics of humblebrags. Table 1b shows the categorization of
complaint-based and humility-based humblebrags, with examples.
Across both types of humblebrags, seven distinct topic categories
emerged: looks and attractiveness (32.1%), performance at work
(17.2%), achievements (15.1%), social life (10.7%), personality
(9.5%), skills (7.9%), and money and wealth (7.5%).
Bragging. Ratings of bragging did not vary significantly
across complaint-based (M!5.45, SD !.86) and humility-based
(M!5.56, SD !.79) humblebrags, t(250) !1.07, p!.29, d!
.13, suggesting that both were seen equally as bragging.
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6SEZER, GINO, AND NORTON
Complaining. Ratings of complaining varied significantly
across different types of humblebrags, t(250) !15.92, p%.001,
d!1.99. Complaining ratings for complaint-based humblebrags
(M!4.52, SD !.89) were higher than ratings for humility-based
humblebrags (M!2.51, SD !1.11).
Trying to appear humble. Ratings of trying to appear hum-
ble varied significantly across different types of humblebrags,
t(250) !15.84, p%.001, d!2.03. Ratings for humility-based
humblebrags (M!4.28, SD !.93) were higher than ratings for
complaint-based humblebrags (M!2.39, SD !.93).
Discussion
These findings support our previous findings that humblebrag-
ging is common in everyday life and takes two distinct forms:
complaint-based and humility-based.
Study 1c: Humblebragging on Social Media
In Study 1c, we examined humblebragging in the channel in
which it seems most ubiquitous: online (Alford, 2012; Buffardi &
Campbell, 2008), where people employ a wide array of strategies
to construct a positive image (Lampel & Bhalla, 2007; Schau &
Gilly, 2003). We analyzed a data set of statements categorized as
“humblebrags” on Twitter, predicting that the complaint-based
humblebrags would be a combination of bragging and complain-
ing, whereas humility-based humblebrags would be a combination
of bragging and an attempt to appear humble.
Method
Procedure. We constructed our data set of humblebrags using
a web page (http://twitter.com/Humblebrag) that lists tweets cate-
gorized as humblebrags between June 2011 and September 2012
for the book Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty (Wittels,
2012). This resulted in a data set of 740 tweets; 68.4% were made
by males (seven tweets lacked gender information). Examples
include “I hate when I go into a store to get something to eat and
the staff are too busy hitting on me to get my order right:(so
annoying!” and “Just been asked to give a talk at Oxford. I’m more
surprised than you are.”
We asked two independent coders— blind to our hypothe-
ses—to analyze the content of the participants’ open-ended re-
sponses and identify whether humblebrags were complaint-based
or humility-based. We again provided coders with the definition of
complaint and humility, based on the prior literature. Interrater
reliability was high (Cohen’s "#.90); coders agreed 97.1% of the
time about the type of humblebrag (719 of 740) and resolved
disagreements through discussion.
As in Study 1b, we recruited three additional independent re-
searcher assistants—also blind to hypotheses—to rate each state-
ment on the following dimensions on 7-point scales (1 !not at all,
7!very much): (a) “To what extent do you think this person is
bragging?”; (b) “To what extent do you think the person is com-
plaining?”; and (c) “To what extent do you think the person is
trying to appear humble?” The raters evaluated each statement
based on its text alone, without receiving any additional informa-
tion about the tweeter. We averaged the ratings for each item ($!
.75, .85, and .62).
Results
Types of humblebrags. As before, we found that the majority
of the humblebrags were complaint-based (61.2%), whereas 38.8%
were humility-based.
Bragging. Ratings of bragging did not vary significantly
across complaint-based (M!4.19, SD !1.52) and humility-based
(M!4.33, SD !1.40) humblebrags, t(738) !1.27, p!.21, d!
.09, again suggesting that both were seen equally as bragging.
Complaining. Ratings of complaining varied significantly
across different types of humblebrags, t(738) !18.38, p%.001,
d!1.44. Complaining ratings for complaint-based humblebrags
(M!4.06, SD !1.65) were higher than ratings for humility-based
humblebrags (M!2.01, SD !1.15).
Trying to appear humble. Ratings of trying to appear hum-
ble varied significantly across different types of humblebrags,
t(738) !15.22, p%.001, d!1.13. Ratings for humility-based
humblebrags (M!4.08, SD !1.04) were higher than ratings for
complaint-based humblebrags (M!2.94, SD !.97).
Discussion
Consistent with Studies 1a and 1b, these results suggest provide
further construct validity consistent with our conceptual account
that humblebragging is bragging masked by complaint or humility.
Study 2: The Behavioral Costs of Humblebragging
Study 2 began to explore the efficacy of humblebragging as a
self-presentation strategy compared with another common and
typically negatively viewed strategy: straightforward bragging. In
a field experiment, we investigated the consequences of face-to-
face humblebragging (vs. bragging) followed by a request to sign
a petition, examining whether humblebragging—in Study 2, in a
complaint-based form—would lead to lower compliance.
Method
Participants. One hundred thirteen college students (55.8%
female) in coffee shops near colleges in a Northeastern city par-
ticipated in the experiment. Prior to beginning data collection, we
targeted recruitment of approximately 150 individuals, based on
what we thought was feasible given the setting; indeed, we ended
with 113 participants because the same participants began to
appear in the coffee shops over the course of the 3 days. One
participant was excluded from the data analysis, as she signed the
petition form without being assigned to any experimental condi-
tion; this participant was in a rush to catch an Uber. For our main
variable of interest, the post hoc power analysis revealed that our
sample size led to an effect size of Cramér’s V !.24, with
achieved power of .73.
Design and procedure. A female confederate who was blind
to our hypothesis approached 113 college students, one at a time,
in eight coffee shops near colleges in a Northeastern city and
requested their signature for a petition. The study was conducted
over the course of 3 days in May 2016. The confederate ap-
proached students who were alone in coffee shops. Depending on
the location of the coffee shop, the confederate was wearing the
sweatshirt of the closest college.
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7
HUMBLEBRAGGING
The confederate explained that she was collecting signatures in
support of a new student-run food truck during the summer on
campus. Once she explained the reason for the petition, she asked,
“What are you up to this summer by the way?” The confederate
then waited for the participant’s response, and alternated the script
that she used across the individuals that she approached. The
confederate either delivered a brag about her summer plans,
“That’s cool! I got my dream internship and got funding to travel
to Paris,” or a humblebrag, “That’s cool! I got my dream internship
and got funding to travel to Paris. Ugh it’s so hard to decide which
one to choose.” We prepopulated the petition form with the same
three signatures to ensure that all participants were exposed to the
same version of the form that asked them to write their name,
e-mail address, and signature (see Figure 1). After participants
signed or not, the confederate informed them that her e-mail
address was on the petition form and they could send her an e-mail
if they had any questions or wanted to follow up; no participants
did so. Participants who signed the form were debriefed the fol-
lowing day via e-mail about the purpose of the study.
We recorded the date, the time, the coffee shop, the gender of
the participant, and whether or not participants signed the petition
form. We used the decision to sign the petition form as our
behavioral measure of liking.
Results
Participants in the humblebragging condition were less likely to
sign the petition than did participants in the bragging condition:
85.7% (48 of 57) volunteered to give their signature in support of
the petition, compared with 64.9% (37 of 57) of the participants in
the humblebragging condition, &
2
(1, N!113) !6.56, p!.01,
Cramér’s V !.24. In addition, we conducted a logistic regression
with petition signing as our dependent measure, and self-
presentation condition (humblebragging vs. bragging), gender,
day, time, and location as independent variables. We observed a
significant effect of condition on the propensity to sign the
petition, B!'1.59, Wald !8.70, df !1, p!.003, but no
Figure 1. Prepopulated petition form from Study 2.
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8SEZER, GINO, AND NORTON
effect of gender (p!.56), time (p!.29), day (p#.43), or
location (p#.18).
Discussion
Results from this field study reveal that a face-to-face humble-
brag causes self-presenters to be treated less positively compared
with a straightforward brag: People were less likely to volunteer a
signature for a petition when the request came from a confederate
who humblebragged than bragged. These findings offer initial
evidence that, despite its generally negative connotation, straight-
forward bragging can produce better outcomes than humblebrag-
ging.
Study 3a: Complaint-Based and Humility-Based
Humblebragging
Study 2 demonstrated that deploying a complaint-based humble-
brag causes individuals to be treated less positively compared with
a straightforward brag. Study 3a had three primary goals. First, we
investigated people’s perceptions of the two distinct types of
humblebrags identified in Studies 1a to 1c— complaint-based and
humility-based. Second, whereas Study 2 used only single brag
and humblebrag, in Study 3a, we used larger set of stimuli to
generalize beyond single cases. Third, whereas Study 2 used a
behavioral outcome measure, in Study 3a, we measured percep-
tions of braggers and humblebraggers on our key theoretical con-
structs: liking, competence, and sincerity. We predicted that
humblebraggers would be evaluated more negatively than brag-
gers, and that these negative perceptions would be driven by
perceived insincerity. Moreover, the design allowed us to deter-
mine which types of humblebrags are least effective: complaint-
based or humility-based.
Method
Participants. We recruited 403 participants (M
age
!36.73,
SD !12.18; 44.9% female) from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and
paid them $1.00 for completing the survey. We included two
attention filter questions to ensure that participants paid attention,
and eliminated eight participants who failed these checks. Prior to
beginning data collection, we targeted recruitment of approxi-
mately 400 individuals (100 per condition). For our main variables
of interest, liking, and perceived competence, the post hoc power
analysis revealed that our sample size led to an effect size of (p
2!
.08, and (p
2!.07, respectively, with achieved power of .99.
Design and procedure. Participants read initial instructions
welcoming them to the study and answered two reading and
comprehension checks. If participants failed either of the compre-
hension checks, they were not allowed to complete the study. Once
they passed both checks, participants were informed that they
would be evaluating five different statements from different indi-
viduals. We randomly assigned participants to one of four
between—subjects conditions in a 2 (content: complaint-based vs.
humility-based) )2 (self-presentation style: brag vs. humblebrag)
experimental design. In each condition, participants evaluated ei-
ther complaint-based humblebrags (e.g., “So I have to go to both
Emmy awards!! . . . Two dresses!!!?!?!”), straightforward brags
based on these complaint-based humblebrags (e.g., “I am going to
both Emmy awards”), humility-based humblebrags (e.g., “I just
received an award for my teaching!?!? #whaaaaaaat?”), or straight-
forward brags based on these humility-based humblebrags (e.g., “I
just received an award for my teaching”). We used humblebrags
from the Twitter data set in Study 1c; we selected the five state-
ments that were the most typical of being complaint-based (the
ones that were highest on complaint but lowest on humility) and
the five most typical of being humility-based (the ones that were
highest on humility but lowest on complaint). Participants rated
each of five statements in each condition in random order.
In the complaint-based humblebrag condition, participants eval-
uated the following statements:
“So I have to go to both Emmy awards!! . . . Two dresses!!!?!?!”
“I hate when first class is no different than coach. #wasteofmoney”
“Maids leave my house so I can go workout!!! #Takingforever”
“I wish these hotel employees would stop staring at me like they’ve
never seen a skinny woman before. Err, or haven’t they?”
“My attempt at wearing pants so I won’t get hit on is failing
miserably.”
In the corresponding straightforward brag condition, partici-
pants evaluated straightforward brags; these messages were de-
signed to convey the same information as the corresponding
humblebrags but retaining the brag and removing the complaint
component.
“I am going to both Emmy awards.”
“I’m flying first class.”
“I have maids.”
“Hotel employees are staring at me like they’ve never seen a skinny
woman before.”
“I am getting hit on.”
In the humility-based humblebrag condition, participants eval-
uated the following five humility-based humblebrags:
“Just getting to Book Review section—forgot I had a book out!
Seeing it on New York Times bestseller list is a thrill (it is pretty
funny)”
“Thanks for the love from everyone who watched my random episode
of Curb Your Enthusiasm last night. Totally forgot about that, sorry
no notice.”
“I just received an award for my teaching!?!? #whaaaaaaat?”
“Huh. I seem to have written one of Amazon.com’s top 10 books of
2011 (so far). Unexpected.”
“Seriously? 2 headlines in 1 day? Only me. I should enter a contest.”
In the corresponding straightforward brag condition, partici-
pants evaluated brags that were based on these humility-based
humblebrags but removed the humility component:
“My book is a New York Times bestseller.”
“My episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm was on last night.”
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9
HUMBLEBRAGGING
“I just received an award for my teaching.”
“I have written one of Amazon.com’s top 10 books of 2011.”
“2 headlines in 1 day. Only me.”
For each of these statements, participants rated how much they
liked the target on a 7-point scale (1 !not at all,7!very much).
Next, they answered a two-item measure of perceived sincerity,
also on a 7-point scale (1 !not at all,7!very much): “How
sincere do you think this person is?” and “How credible do you
think this person is?” ($!.92; Chan & Sengupta, 2010). Then,
they rated how competent they found the target on a 7-point scale
(1 !not at all,7!very much). Because the interrater reliabilities
for the five statements were high in each condition ($s for liking !
.80; $s for perceived competence !.84; $s for perceived sincer-
ity !.83), we averaged the within-subjects ratings for each item.
Next, as manipulation checks, participants rated the extent to
which they thought the person was bragging, complaining, and
trying to appear humble on 7-point scales (1 !not at all,7!very
much). We averaged ratings to create composite measures for
bragging, complaining and trying to appear humble; interrater
reliability for the three ratings across conditions: $s for brag-
ging !.64; $s for complaining !.68; $s for trying to appear
humble !.81.
Finally, participants answered demographic questions.
Results
Table 2 provides means for all dependent measures by condi-
tion.
Manipulation checks. An ANOVA with self-presentation
style (brag vs. humblebrag) and content (complaint-based vs.
humility-based) as the independent variables showed that there
was no main effect of self-presentation style on ratings of brag-
ging, F(1, 399) !1.40, p!.24, (
2
!.004: Targets in the
humblebrag condition (M!5.10, SD !1.20) received equal
ratings of bragging as targets in the brag condition (M!5.22,
SD !1.03). Consistent with our definition of humblebrags, both
brags and humblebrags were perceived as bragging. Interestingly,
ratings in the complaint-based condition were significantly higher
(M!5.36, SD !1.13) than those in the humility-based condition
(M!4.97, SD !1.08, p%.001), F(1, 399) !12.49, p%.001,
(p
2!.03. There was no interaction, F(1, 399) !.76, p!.38, (p
2!
.002.
Complaining ratings in the humblebrag condition were higher
(M!3.08, SD !1.77) than in the brag condition (M!2.15,
SD !.96), F(1, 399) !85.62, p%.001, (
2
!.18. More
importantly, ratings of complaining were significantly different
between complaint-based versus humility-based statements, F(1,
399) !313.28, p%.001, (
2
!.44: Complaint-based statements
received higher ratings (M!3.50, SD !1.49) than humility-
based statements (M!1.74, SD !.84). We also observed a
significant interaction, F(1, 399) !111.25, p%.001, (
2
!.22,
reflective of the fact that ratings of complaining were higher in the
complaint-based humblebrag condition—the one condition that
contained an actual complaint—than in the other conditions (see
Table 2).
Finally, ratings of trying to appear humble ratings also varied
significantly depending on the self-presentation style, F(1, 399) !
29.32, p%.001, (
2
!.07: Ratings were significantly higher in the
humblebrag (M!2.91, SD !1.46) than in the brag (M!2.28,
SD !1.03) condition. We also observed a main effect of content
(complaint-based vs. humility-based) on ratings of trying to appear
humble: ratings were significantly higher in the humility-based
conditions (M!3.00, SD !1.31) than the complaint-based
conditions (M!2.19, SD !1.16), F(1, 399) !49.72, p%.001,
(
2
!.11. There was a significant interaction, F(1, 399) !24.66,
p%.001, (
2
!.06, reflective of the fact that ratings of trying to
appear humble were highest in the humility-based humblebrag
condition—the one condition that contained an effort to appear
humble— compared with the other conditions (see Table 2).
Liking. As predicted, we observed a significant main effect of
self-presentation style on liking, F(1, 399) !33.33, p%.001,
(p
2!.08: Participants liked targets who humblebragged less (M!
3.18, SD !1.26) than targets who deployed straightforward brags
(M!3.79, SD !1.02). The main effect of content was also
significant F(1, 399) !83.72, p%.001, (p
2!.17: Participants
who viewed complaint-based statements liked their targets less
(M!3.01, SD !1.12) than those who viewed humility-based
statements (M!3.96, SD !1.05). There was no interaction, F(1,
399) !2.39, p!.12, (p
2!.006.
Perceived competence. Consistent with our predictions, we
observed a main effect of self-presentation style on perceptions of
the target’s competence, F(1, 399) !29.74, p%.001, (p
2!.07:
Participants rated those who deployed humblebrags as less com-
petent (M!3.93, SD !1.38) than those who bragged (M!4.56,
SD !1.07). The main effect of complaint-based versus humility-
based content was also significant, F(1, 399) !78.04, p%.001,
(p
2!.17: Targets who made complaint-based statements were
perceived as less competent (M!3.74, SD !1.21) than those
Table 2
Descriptive Statistics for All Measures in Study 3a
Variable
Humblebrag &
complaint-based
Brag &
complaint-based
Humblebrag &
humility-based
Brag &
humility-based
Liking 2.63 [2.41, 2.86] 3.39 [3.20, 3.58] 3.74 [3.52, 3.96] 4.18 [3.99, 4.37]
Perceived competence 3.43 [3.16, 3.69] 4.07 [3.88, 4.26] 4.45 [4.21, 4.69] 5.04 [4.85, 5.22]
Perceived sincerity 3.30 [3.06, 3.55] 3.93 [3.73, 4.13] 3.99 [3.77, 4.21] 4.67 [4.49, 4.86]
Bragging 5.34 [5.09, 5.59] 5.37 [5.17, 5.57] 4.85 [4.64, 5.07] 5.08 [4.87, 5.29]
Complaining 4.47 [4.21, 4.72] 2.51 [2.33, 2.69] 1.67 [1.52, 1.82] 1.80 [1.63, 1.98]
Trying to appear humble 2.21 [1.95, 2.47] 2.16 [1.97, 2.36] 3.61 [3.36, 3.86] 2.40 [2.19, 2.61]
Note. The values in square brackets are 95% confidence intervals.
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10 SEZER, GINO, AND NORTON
who made humility-based statements (M!4.75, SD !1.13).
There was no interaction, F(1, 399) !.05, p!.82, (p
2!.001.
Perceived sincerity. We also observed a main effect of self-
presentation style on our mediating construct, perceived sincerity,
F(1, 399) !36.61, p%.001, (p
2!.08: Consistent with our
hypothesis, ratings of perceived sincerity were lower in the
humblebrag conditions (M!3.64, SD !1.23) than in the brag
conditions (M!4.31, SD !1.04). Perceptions of sincerity varied
across complaint-based and humility-based conditions, F(1,
399) !43.85, p%.001, (p
2!.09: Participants rated complaint-
based statements to be less sincere (M!3.61, SD !1.17) than
humility-based statements (M!4.33, SD !1.09). There was no
interaction, F(1, 399) !.08, p!.77, (p
2!.001.
Mediation. A path analysis revealed that perceived sincerity
mediated the relationship between self-presentation style and lik-
ing. Humblebragging led to lower perceived sincerity, which led
participants to find targets as less likable. When we included
perceived sincerity in the model, predicting liking, the effect of
humblebragging was reduced (from b!'.61, p%.001, to
b!'.08, p!.28), and perceived sincerity was a significant
predictor of liking (b!.80, p%.001). A 10,000-sample bootstrap
analysis revealed that the 95% bias-corrected confidence interval
for the size of the indirect effect excluded zero ['.72, '.35],
suggesting a significant indirect effect size of .06 (Baron & Kenny,
1986; Preacher & Kelley, 2011).
Perceived sincerity also mediated the relationship between
humblebragging and perceived competence. The effect of humble-
bragging was significantly reduced (from b!'.63, p%.001, to
b!'.01, p!.88) when we included perceived sincerity in the
model, and perceived sincerity was a significant predictor of
perceived competence ratings (b!.93, p%.001). A 10,000-
sample bootstrap analysis revealed that the 95% bias-corrected
confidence interval for the size of the indirect effect excluded zero
['.84, '.41], suggesting a significant indirect effect of .06 (Baron
& Kenny, 1986; Preacher & Kelley, 2011).
Discussion
Individuals who humblebrag— couching a brag in a complaint
or humility—are liked less and perceived to be less competent than
those who straightforwardly brag. Complaint-based humblebrags
are viewed more negatively than humility-based humblebrags.
Moreover, insincerity plays a critical mediating role: Although
people do not rate braggers highly, they at least see them as more
sincere than humblebraggers, such that perceptions of insincerity
drive negative evaluations of humblebraggers.
Study 3b: Comparing Humblebragging
With Complaining
Studies 2 and 3a demonstrated that bragging is a more effective
than humblebragging as a self-presentation strategy. In Study 3b,
we tested the relative efficacy of complaint-based humblebragging
not only against straightforward bragging but also against another
seemingly negative subcomponent: straightforward complaining.
In line with our overall account, we predicted that humblebrags
would be less effective at inducing liking than both complaints and
brags because although complaints and brags are not necessarily
viewed positively, they are at least perceived as sincere. We
therefore again assessed perceived sincerity as a mediator of the
relationship between humblebragging, liking, and perceived com-
petence.
Method
Participants. In order to ensure that we selected statements
that distinctively reflected complaining, bragging, and complaint-
based humblebragging, we pretested our paradigm by recruiting
two hundred and 99 participants (M
age
!33.74, SD !9.94; 43.1%
female) from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk in exchange for $0.50.
We included several comprehension checks to ensure that partic-
ipants paid attention and eliminated four participants who failed
these checks. Prior to beginning data collection, we targeted a
recruitment of approximately 200 individuals (100 participants per
experimental condition).
For the main study, we recruited 301 participants (M
age
!
36.14, SD !10.78; 39.2% female) through Amazon’s Mechanical
Turk to participate in an online study in exchange for $0.50. All
participants passed attention checks. Prior to beginning data col-
lection, we targeted a recruitment of approximately 300 individu-
als (100 participants per experimental condition). For our main
variables of interest, liking and perceived competence, the post hoc
power analysis revealed that our sample size led to an effect size
of (
2
!.10 and (
2
!.04, respectively, with achieved power of .99
and .93.
Design and procedure. In both the pretest and the main
study, we told participants that they would be evaluating another
person. All participants were randomly assigned to one of three
conditions— humblebrag, brag, or complain— in a between-subjects
design. Participants in the humblebrag condition viewed the following
statement from the target: “I am so bored of people mistaking me for
amodel.”Participantsinthebragconditionviewedthebragportion
of the humblebrag: “People mistake me for a model.” Participants in
the complain condition viewed the complaint portion: “I am so
bored.” In the pretest, as manipulation checks, participants rated the
extent to which they thought the person was complaining, bragging,
and humblebragging on 7-point scales (1 !not at all,7!very
much).
In the main study, after viewing one of these statements, par-
ticipants rated how much they liked the target and how competent
they found the target on 7-point scales (1 !not at all,7!very
much). Then they answered a two-item measure of perceived
sincerity, also on a 7-point scale (1 !not at all,7!very much):
“How sincere do you think this person is?” and “How credible do
you think this person is?” ($!.92; Chan & Sengupta, 2010).
Finally, participants answered demographic questions.
Results
Table 3 provides means for all dependent measures by condi-
tion.
Manipulation checks from the pretest. An ANOVA with
condition (complain vs. brag vs. humblebrag) as the independent
variable revealed a significant effect on ratings of complaining,
F(2, 299) !104.19, p%.001, (
2
!.41. Post hoc tests (with
Bonferroni corrections) indicated that ratings of complaining were
higher in the complain condition (M!5.67, SD !.99) than in the
brag (M!2.29, SD !1.64, p%.001) and humblebrag (M!4.17,
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11
HUMBLEBRAGGING
SD !2.18, p%.001) conditions. Consistent with our definition of
humblebrags, ratings of complaining were higher in the humble-
brag condition than in the brag condition (p%.001).
Ratings of bragging varied significantly, F(2, 299) !352.31,
p%.001, (
2
!.70. Post hoc tests revealed that bragging ratings
in both the brag (M!6.22, SD !1.10) and humblebrag (M!
5.97, SD !1.40) conditions were higher than those in the com-
plain condition (M!2.03, SD !1.27, ps%.001); again consis-
tent with our definition, the brag and humblebrag conditions did
not differ (p!.51).
Finally, humblebragging ratings also varied significantly, F(2,
299) !103.86, p%.001, (
2
!.41. Post hoc tests indicated that
humblebragging ratings were significantly higher in the humble-
brag condition (M!5.83, SD !1.62) than in the brag condition
(M!4.67, SD !2.06, p%.001) and the complain condition
(M!2.27, SD !1.62, p%.001).
Liking. As predicted, an ANOVA revealed a significant effect
on liking, F(2, 298) !17.16, p%.001, (
2
!.10. Participants in
the humblebrag condition liked the target less (M!2.36, SD !
1.26) than did participants in the brag condition (M!3.04, SD !
1.41; p!.001) and the complain condition (M!3.41, SD !1.18;
p%.001). Liking ratings in the complain condition did not differ
significantly from ratings in the brag condition (p!.13).
Perceived competence. An ANOVA revealed that perceived
competence varied across conditions, F(2, 298) !12.89, p!.001,
(
2
!.04. Participants in the humblebrag condition perceived the
target to be less competent (M!2.94, SD !1.39) than did
participants in the brag condition (M!3.41, SD !1.42; p!.05)
and the complain condition (M!3.64, SD !1.32; p!.001).
Perceptions of competence in the complain condition did not differ
significantly from the brag condition (p!.69).
Perceived sincerity. Participants’ perception of sincerity var-
ied across conditions, F(2, 298) !31.02, p%.001, (
2
!.17.
Consistent with our hypothesis, ratings of perceived sincerity were
lower in the humblebrag condition (M!2.64, SD !1.53) than in
the brag condition (M!3.20, SD !1.57, p!.03) and the
complain condition (M!4.29, SD !1.44, p%.001). Participants
in the brag condition rated targets as less sincere than participants
in the complain condition (p%.001).
Mediation. To examine whether sincerity mediated the effect
of humblebragging on liking, we followed the steps recommended
by Baron and Kenny (1986). The first and second criteria specify
that the independent variable should significantly affect the depen-
dent variable and the mediators. The prior analyses showed that
these two criteria were met, as humblebragging had a significant
effect on liking and sincerity. To assess the third and fourth
criteria, we conducted a hierarchical ordinary least-squares regres-
sion analysis (including a dummy variable for the bragging con-
dition), predicting liking from the independent variable of the
humblebragging condition (Step 1) and sincerity (Step 2). The
third criterion specifies that the mediator should significantly
predict the dependent variable while controlling for the indepen-
dent variable. The results met this criterion: Controlling for the
humblebragging and bragging conditions, we found that sincerity
significantly predicted greater liking (b!.58, t!17.02, p%
.001). To complete the test of mediation for sincerity, the fourth
criterion holds that the effect of the independent variable on the
dependent variable should decrease after controlling for the medi-
ator. After controlling for sincerity, the effect of humblebragging
on liking decreased significantly (from b!'.86, p%.001 to
b!'.22, p!.06). To test whether the size of the indirect effect
of humblebragging on liking through sincerity differed signifi-
cantly from zero, we used a bootstrap procedure to construct
bias-corrected confidence intervals based on 10,000 random sam-
ples with replacement from the full sample (Preacher & Hayes,
2004). The 95% bias-corrected confidence interval excluded zero
('.88, '.41), indicating a significant indirect effect size of .08.
A path analysis also revealed that perceived sincerity mediated
the relationship between humblebragging and perceived compe-
tence. When we included perceived sincerity in the model, pre-
dicting perceived competence, the effect of humblebragging was
reduced (from b!'.59, p!.001, to b!.09, p!.48), and
perceived sincerity was a significant predictor of perceived com-
petence (b!.61, p%.001). The 95% bias-corrected confidence
interval for the size of the indirect effect excluded zero
['.93, '.44], suggesting a significant indirect effect size of .04
(Baron & Kenny, 1986; Preacher & Kelley, 2011). Humblebrag-
ging lowered perceptions of sincerity, which led participants to
find their targets less competent.
Discussion
Individuals who engage in complaint-based humblebragging—
couching a brag in a complaint—are viewed more negatively than
those who straightforwardly brag or even than those who com-
plain. Moreover, as in Study 3b, insincerity played a mediating
role: Although braggers and complainers are not well liked, they
are at least seen as more sincere than humblebraggers.
Table 3
Descriptive Statistics for All Measures in Study 3b
Variable Complaint-based humblebrag Brag Complaint
Main study
Liking 2.36 [2.11, 2.61] 3.04 [2.76, 3.32] 3.41 [3.17, 3.64]
Perceived competence 2.94 [2.66, 3.21] 3.41 [3.13, 3.69] 3.64 [3.38, 3.90]
Perceived sincerity 2.64 [2.34, 2.94] 3.20 [2.89, 3.51] 4.29 [4.01, 4.58]
Pretest
Bragging 5.97 [5.69, 6.25] 6.22 [6.00, 6.43] 2.03 [1.78, 2.28]
Complaining 4.17 [3.74, 4.61] 2.29 [1.97, 2.62] 5.67 [5.47, 5.86]
Humblebragging 5.83 [5.50, 6.15] 4.67 [4.26, 5.07] 2.27 [1.96, 5.59]
Note. The values in square brackets are 95% confidence intervals.
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12 SEZER, GINO, AND NORTON
Study 4a and 4b: Humblebragging and Generosity
Study 2 examined the effect of humblebragging on compliance
with a request; Studies 4a and 4b assessed whether the costs of
humblebragging extend to generosity as well. Consistent with our
previous studies, we explored whether perceived sincerity would
drive lower levels of liking, which, in turn, would lead to less
money allocated in a dictator game.
Study 4a
Method.
Participants. The study employed two phases. One hundred
fifty-four individuals (M
age
!33.27, SD !9.36; 35.1% female)
recruited on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk participated in the first
phase in exchange for $0.50. We included two comprehension
checks; one participant did not pass the filter questions and was
eliminated from the study automatically. For the second phase, we
recruited 619 participants (M
age
!33.44, SD !9.72; 41.4%
female) across four different studies from Amazon’s Mechanical
Turk in exchange for $0.50. We included two attention filter
questions and eliminated 32 participants across four studies who
failed these checks. For the second phase, participants were in-
formed that they would be evaluating messages from real individ-
uals recruited in another phase of the study, and that their alloca-
tion decisions would be hypothetical. We aimed for about 140 to
150 participants to be able to match the respondents from the first
phase; for liking and perceived sincerity, the post hoc power
analysis revealed that our sample size led to an effect size of an
effect size of d!.36 and d!.36, respectively, with achieved
power of .99 and .99.
Design and procedure. Participants in the first phase were
assigned to the role of Player A and were informed that they would
be playing an allocation game with Player B from another session.
They were told that Player B would allocate $5.00 between the two
of them. Their task was to select three messages that applied most
to them to send to the other player, and they were randomly
assigned to one of two conditions in a between-subjects design.
Participants in the humblebragging condition were given the
following pairs of messages (each of which was a humblebrag) and
selected one message from each pair:
“Being the know-how person at work is so exhausting.
People come to me first.”
“Being too qualified on the job market sucks.”
“I have no idea how I got accepted to all the top schools.”
“I am so exhausted from getting elected to leadership
positions all the time.”
“I can’t even count the number of people who told me I
look like a celebrity. Like really?”
“People keep telling me how cute I am, awkward.”
Participants in the bragging condition were given the following
pairs and selected one message from each pair. The messages were
designed to convey the same information as the corresponding
humblebrags, retaining the brag and removing the complaint com-
ponent.
“I am the know-how person at work. People come to me
first.”
“I am really qualified for the job market.”
“I got accepted to all the top schools.”
“I get elected to leadership positions all the time.”
“People frequently tell me that I look like a celebrity.”
“People keep telling me how cute I am.”
Participants in the second phase of the study were all assigned
to the role of Player B and were informed that they would allocate
$5.00 between them and Player A from another session. They were
randomly assigned to one of the two conditions in a between-
subjects design, such that they played the dictator game with an
individual who either sent humblebragging messages or bragging
messages. After reading the messages, participants rated how
much they liked Player A as well as Player A’s sincerity ($!.90),
using the same measures from previous studies, then allocated
$5.00 on a slider from $0 to $5.00. Across the four studies, one
participant skipped the allocation question. (In one of the four
studies, the order of questions was allocation, liking and sincerity,
rather than liking, sincerity and allocation as in the other studies.
We included a study indicator as a fixed effect in our model. Note
also that Studies 4a and 4b do not include a measure of perceived
competence.)
Finally, participants answered demographic questions.
Results. Table 4 provides means for all dependent measures
by condition.
To account for the different combinations of messages that
senders chose in the first part of the study, we ran a linear mixed
effects model, with random intercepts grouped by message com-
binations and condition and study indicator as fixed effects.
Liking. Participants who were matched with a humblebragger
liked their partner significantly less (M!2.57, SD !1.43) than
did participants matched with a bragger (M!3.11, SD !1.56),
b!.54; 95% CI [.31, .78]; t(614) !8.79; p%.001, d!.36.
Perceived sincerity. Participants who were matched with a
humblebragger found the target to be less sincere (M!2.84, SD !
1.47) than did participants matched with a bragger (M!3.36,
SD !1.45), b!.51; 95% CI [.29, .75]; t(614) !4.39; p%.001,
d!.36.
Allocation. Hypothetical allocation decisions did not differ:
Participants matched with a humblebragger and bragger allocated
similar amounts (M!1.03, SD !1.30; M!1.11, SD !1.24),
b!.08; 95% CI ['.49, .59]; t(613) !.18; p!.86, d!.06.
Mediation. A path analysis revealed that perceived sincerity
mediated the relationship between condition and liking, again
controlling for the four different studies. When we included per-
ceived sincerity in the model the effect of condition on liking was
reduced (from b!'.54, p%.001, to b!'.15, p!.07), and
perceived sincerity was a significant predictor of liking (b!.76,
p%.001). A 10,000-sample bootstrap analysis revealed that the
Table 4
Descriptive Statistics for All Measures in Studies 4a and 4b
Variable Humblebrag Brag
Study 4a
Liking 2.57 [2.41, 2.73] 3.11 [2.94, 3.29]
Perceived sincerity 2.84 [2.68, 3.01] 3.36 [3.20, 3.52]
Allocation 1.03 [.89, 1.18] 1.11 [.97, 1.25]
Study 4b
Liking 2.46 [2.21, 2.72] 2.95 [2.66, 3.23]
Perceived sincerity 2.74 [2.50, 2.99] 3.37 [3.09, 3.65]
Allocation .70 [.47, .93] 1.05 [.81, 1.29]
Note. The values in square brackets are 95% confidence intervals.
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13
HUMBLEBRAGGING
95% bias-corrected confidence interval for the size of the indirect
effect excluded zero ['.58, '.22], suggesting a significant indi-
rect effect (Baron & Kenny, 1986; Preacher & Kelley, 2011).
Discussion. As in our previous studies, humblebraggers were
seen as insincere, leading them to be less liked; straightforwardly
bragging produces better outcomes than humblebragging. How-
ever, our hypothetical allocation measure did not show differences
between the two conditions; as a result, Study 4b included real
allocation decisions to test whether humblebragging may have
actual financial costs.
Study 4b
Method.
Participants. The study had the same design as Study 4a;
however, for the second phase, we recruited 154 participants from
a university in the northeastern United States (M
age
!21.38, SD !
1.50; 70.5% female) to participate in an online study in exchange
for a $5.00 Amazon.com gift card. All participants passed the
comprehension checks. For both phases of the study, participants
were informed that they would be paid additional money based on
the allocation game. We aimed for about 140 to 150 participants to
be able to match the respondents from the first phase, and for
liking and perceived sincerity, the post hoc power analysis re-
vealed that our sample size led to an effect size of an effect size of
d!.41 and d!.55, respectively, with achieved power of .71 and
.92.
Design and procedure. This study employed the same design
as Study 4a, except that the allocation decision was not hypothet-
ical but real: Participants in the second phase were all assigned to
the role of Player B and were informed that they would allocate
$5.00 between them and Player A from another session. They were
randomly assigned to evaluate an individual who either sent
humblebragging messages or bragging messages. After reading the
messages, participants rated how much they liked Player A and
Player A’s sincerity ($!.70) using the same measures from
previous studies, then allocated $5.00 on a slider from $0 to $5.00;
one participant skipped the allocation decision.
Finally, participants answered demographic questions.
Results. Table 4 provides means for all dependent measures
by condition.
For all analyses, as in Study 4a, we ran a linear mixed effects
model, with random intercepts grouped by message combinations
and condition as fixed effects to account for the different combi-
nations of messages that senders chose in the first phase of the
study.
Liking. Participants matched with a humblebragger liked their
partner significantly less (M!2.46, SD !1.14) than did partic-
ipants matched with a bragger (M!2.95, SD !1.25), b!.49;
95% CI [.11, .87]; t(152) !2.52; p!.013, d!.41.
Perceived sincerity. Participants matched with a humblebrag-
ger found the target to be less sincere (M!2.74, SD !1.08) than
did participants matched with a bragger (M!3.37, SD !1.22),
b!.62; 95% CI [.26, .99]; t(152) !3.37; p%.001, d!.55.
Allocation. Participants matched with a humblebragger allo-
cated less money to their partners (M!.70, SD !1.02) than did
participants matched with a bragger (M!1.05, SD !1.04), b!
.36; 95% CI [.46, .92]; t(151) !2.15, p!.034, d!.34.
Mediation. A path analysis revealed that perceived sincerity
and liking mediated the relationship between condition and allo-
cation. Higher perceived sincerity led participants to like their
partner more, which led to higher allocation amounts in the dic-
tator game. When we included perceived sincerity in the model,
predicting liking, the effect of condition was reduced (from
b!'.49, p!.013, to b!'.17, p!.33), and perceived
sincerity was a significant predictor of liking (b!.51, p%.001).
The 95% bias-corrected confidence interval for the size of the
indirect effect excluded zero ['.56, '.14], suggesting a signifi-
cant indirect effect. When we included perceived sincerity and
liking in the model, predicting allocation, the effect of condition
was reduced (from b!'.36, p!.034, to b!'.15, p!.35), and
both perceived sincerity (*!.17, p!.029) and liking (b!.19,
p!.014) predicted allocation. The 95% bias-corrected confidence
interval for the size of the indirect effect excluded zero ['.15, '.01],
suggesting a significant indirect effect (Baron & Kenny, 1986;
Preacher & Kelley, 2011).
Discussion. Results from Study 4b—taken together with the
results for compliance with requests from Study 2—suggest that
the costs of humblebragging extend beyond interpersonal evalua-
tions, impacting behavior. Humblebraggers are seen as insincere,
leading them to be less liked and treated less generously. At the
same time, results from Study 4a were inconclusive: Hypothetical
allocation decisions were not influenced by humblebragging. As a
result, future research is needed to further test the robustness of the
effects of humblebragging on financial outcomes.
Study 5: The Antecedents and Consequences of
Humblebragging
Studies 2, 3a, 3b, 4a, and 4b showed that people who humble-
brag are generally disliked and perceived as insincere, yet Studies
1a to 1c showed that humblebragging is ubiquitous. Study 5
investigated the antecedents of humblebragging: What beliefs lead
people to deploy an ineffective strategy? As discussed in the
introduction, both eliciting warmth— being liked—and conveying
competence— being respected—are fundamental social goals
(Baumeister, 1982; Buss, 1983; Hill, 1987; Zivnuska et al., 2004).
In Study 5, we asked people to choose a self-presentation strategy
that would achieve the goal of eliciting sympathy, the goal of
eliciting respect, or both goals. We suggest that faced with the task
of meeting both goals, people will select humblebragging in the
erroneous belief that— unlike complaining (which might elicit
sympathy and induce liking) or bragging (which might elicit
respect and perceptions of competence)— humblebragging would
elicit both. Study 5 simultaneously examined recipients’ percep-
tions of these strategies—allowing for an analysis of their efficacy.
We predicted that although self-presenters would select humble-
bragging to gain sympathy and respect, it would accomplish nei-
ther goal, because recipients view it as insincere.
Method
Participants. We recruited 305 participants (M
age
!35.69,
SD !11.31; 41.6% female) from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk in
exchange for $0.50 for a manipulation check. Prior to beginning
data collection, we targeted a recruitment of approximately 200
individuals (100 participants per experimental condition). The goal
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14 SEZER, GINO, AND NORTON
of the manipulation check was to validate that the complaint, brag,
and humblebrags used in the main experiment met our criteria.
For the main study, we recruited 608 individuals (M
age
!36.29,
SD !11.64; 45.6% female) from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to
participate in an online study in exchange for $0.50. One partici-
pant failed to pass the attention checks and was dismissed from the
study. Prior to beginning data collection, we targeted a recruitment
of approximately 600 individuals (100 participants per experimen-
tal condition). For our main variable of interest, liking and per-
ceived competence, the post hoc power analysis revealed that our
sample size led to an effect size of an effect size of (
2
!.10 and
(
2
!.05, respectively, with achieved power of .99 and .94.
Design and procedure. In the pretest, as manipulation checks,
participants rated the extent to which they thought the person was
complaining, bragging, and humblebragging on 7-point scales
(1 !not at all,7!very much).
In the main study, we randomly assigned participants to one of
six between-subjects conditions using a 2 (role: sender vs. re-
ceiver) )3 (self-presentation goal: sympathy vs. impress vs.
sympathy and impress) experimental design. We asked partici-
pants in the sender role to choose a message to another person. All
senders were randomly assigned to one of three conditions in
which they were given a different purpose: eliciting sympathy
from the other person, impressing the other person, or eliciting
sympathy and impressing. Participants in the sympathy condition
were told, “Your goal is to choose the message that will make the
recipient feel the most sympathetic toward you.” Participants in the
impress condition were told, “Your goal is to choose the message
that will make the recipient feel the most impressed by you.”
Participants in the sympathy and impress condition were told,
“Your goal is to choose the message that will make the recipient
feel the most sympathetic toward you and the most impressed by
you.” We provided participants with a multiple-choice question in
which they chose to send either a complaint (“I am so exhausted”),
a brag (“I get elected to leadership positions”), or a humblebrag (“I
am so exhausted from getting elected to leadership positions”). We
did not provide participants with the name of the category. The
order of the multiple-choice options was counterbalanced; order
did not affect our results.
Receivers were told that they would be evaluating another
person. All participants were randomly assigned to one of three
statements— humblebrag, brag, or complain that senders had to
choose from—in a between-subjects design. Participants in the
humblebrag condition viewed the following statement from the
target: “I am so exhausted from getting elected to leadership
positions.” Participants in the brag condition viewed the brag
portion of the humblebrag: “I get elected to leadership positions.”
And participants in the complain condition viewed the complaint
portion: “I am so exhausted.”
After viewing one of these statements, similar to Study 3b,
senders rated how much they liked the target and how competent
they found the target on a 7-point scale (1 !not at all,7!very
much). Then they answered the same two-item measure of per-
ceived sincerity, also on a 7-point scale (1 !not at all,7!very
much): “How sincere do you think this person is?” and “How
credible do you think this person is?” ($!.85; Chan & Sengupta,
2010).
Finally, all participants answered demographic questions.
Results
Table 5 provides means for all dependent measures by condi-
tion.
Manipulation checks. An ANOVA with condition (complain
vs. brag vs. humblebrag) as the independent variable revealed a
significant effect on ratings of complaining, F(2, 302) !112.54,
p%.001, (
2
!.43. Post hoc tests (with Bonferroni corrections)
indicated that ratings of complaining in the complain condition
(M!4.79, SD !1.54) and in the humblebrag condition (M!
4.30, SD !1.89) were higher than those in the brag condition
(M!1.66, SD !1.28, p%.001). Again consistent with our
definition, ratings of complaining were higher in the humblebrag
condition than in the brag condition (p%.001). Ratings of com-
plaining in the humblebrag and complain conditions did not differ
(p!.09).
Ratings of bragging also varied significantly, F(2, 302) !
165.95, p%.001, (
2
!.52. Post hoc tests revealed that bragging
ratings in both the brag (M!5.73, SD !1.20) and humblebrag
(M!5.04, SD !1.84) conditions were higher than those in the
complain condition (M!2.14, SD !1.36, ps%.001); in this
study, ratings in the brag condition were higher than those in the
humblebrag condition (p!.003).
Humblebragging ratings also varied significantly, F(2, 302) !
55.71, p%.001, (
2
!.27. Post hoc tests indicated that humble-
bragging ratings were significantly higher in the humblebrag con-
dition (M!5.17, SD !1.89) than in the brag condition (M!
3.86, SD !1.99, p%.001) and the complain condition (M!2.43,
SD !1.67, p%.001).
Self-presentation strategy selection. In the sympathy condi-
tion, the majority (85.1%) of participants chose to send a com-
Table 5
Descriptive Statistics for All Measures in Study 5
Variable Complaint-based humblebrag Brag Complaint
Main study (receivers’ evaluations)
Liking 3.32 [3.08, 3.56] 3.99 [3.74, 4.24] 4.24 [4.06, 4.41]
Perceived competence 4.11 [3.83, 4.38] 4.85 [4.60, 5.10] 4.50 [4.28, 4.72]
Perceived sincerity 3.81 [3.53, 4.10] 4.38 [4.12, 4.63] 4.89 [4.69, 5.10]
Pretest
Bragging 5.04 [4.68, 5.40] 5.73 [5.49, 5.97] 2.14 [1.87, 2.40]
Complaining 4.30 [3.93, 4.68] 1.66 [1.41, 1.91] 4.79 [4.48, 5.09]
Humblebragging 5.17 [4.79, 5.54] 3.86 [3.46, 4.26] 2.43 [2.10, 2.75]
Note. The values in square brackets are 95% confidence intervals.
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15
HUMBLEBRAGGING
plaint, whereas 7.9% chose to send a humblebrag and 6.9% chose
to brag, &
2
(2, N!101) !122.04, p%.001. In the impress
condition, 66% of participants decided to send a brag, 19% chose
to send a humblebrag, and 15% chose to send a complaint, &
2
(2,
N!100) !48.26, p%.001. As we expected, participants in the
sympathy and impress conditions favored the humblebrag, reflect-
ing their belief that humblebragging would make the recipient feel
both sympathetic and impressed: 50% of participants chose to send
a humblebrag, whereas 39.2% chose to complain and only 10.8%
chose to brag, &
2
(2, N!102) !25.12, p%.001. Most impor-
tantly, the percentage of participants who chose to humblebrag was
higher in the sympathy and impress condition (50%) than in both
the impress (30.3%) and sympathy (12.9%) conditions, &
2
(2, N!
303) !50.56, p%.001, Cramér’s V !.28 (see Figure 2).
Liking. Did humblebrags actually elicit positive perceptions?
An ANOVA revealed a significant effect on liking, F(2, 302) !
17.41, p%.001, (
2
!.10. As predicted, and consistent with the
earlier studies, participants who viewed humblebrags liked the
target less (M!3.32, SD !1.23) than did participants who
viewed brags (M!3.99, SD !1.28; p%.001) or complaints
(M!4.24, SD !.88; p%.001). Liking ratings for targets who
complained did not differ from ratings of those who bragged (p!
.38).
Perceived competence. An ANOVA revealed that perceived
competence varied as well, F(2, 302) !8.76, p%.001, (
2
!.05.
Participants who viewed humblebrags perceived the target to be
less competent (M!4.11, SD !1.39) than did participants who
viewed brags (M!4.85, SD !1.28; p%.001), and as similarly
competent as did participants who viewed complaints (M!4.50,
SD !1.11; p!.08). Perceptions of competence for complaints
and brags did not differ significantly (p!.15).
Perceived sincerity. Participants’ perception of sincerity also
varied, F(2, 302) !18.56, p%.001, (
2
!.11. Replicating Study
3b, ratings of perceived sincerity were lower for targets who
humblebragged (M!3.81, SD !1.44) than those who bragged
(M!4.38, SD !1.29, p!.005) or complained (M!4.89, SD !
1.03, p%.001). Participants rated targets who bragged as less
sincere than targets who complained (p!.012).
Mediation. A path analysis revealed that perceived sincerity
partially mediated the relationship between humblebragging and
liking. When we included perceived sincerity in the model, pre-
dicting liking, the effect of humblebragging was reduced (from
b!'.79, p%.001, to b!'.29, p!.007), and perceived
sincerity was a significant predictor of liking (b!.61, p%.001).
The 95% bias-corrected confidence interval for the size of the
indirect effect excluded zero ['.71, '.29], suggesting a signifi-
cant indirect effect size of .08 (Baron & Kenny, 1986; Preacher &
Kelley, 2011).
Perceived sincerity also mediated the relationship between
humblebragging and perceived competence. Including sincerity
in the model significantly reduced the effect of humblebragging
(from b!'.57, p%.001, to b!'.06, p!.63), and perceived
sincerity was a significant predictor of liking (b!.61, p%
.001). A 10,000-sample bootstrap analysis revealed that the
95% bias-corrected confidence interval for the size of the
indirect effect excluded zero ['.74, '.31], suggesting a sig-
nificant indirect effect size of .04 (Baron & Kenny, 1986;
Preacher & Kelley, 2011).
Discussion
These results show that under some circumstances, people
choose to deploy straightforward complaints (when seeking
sympathy) and brags (when seeking respect). However, when
people aim to elicit both sympathy and admiration—which
again is a common goal in everyday life—their propensity to
choose humblebragging increases. Unfortunately, as in Studies
2, 3a, and 3b, results from recipients again show that the
strategy backfires: Humblebraggers are viewed as less likable
and less competent, because using the strategy makes the
humblebragger seem insincere.
Figure 2. Self-presentation strategy selection by condition in Study 5.
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16 SEZER, GINO, AND NORTON
Additional Mediation Analyses
To offer further support for our conceptual account, we tested
additional alternative meditational models in which we reversed
the mediator and primary dependent variable(s). For example, in
Study 3a, when we included liking in the model as the mediator
predicting perceived sincerity, the effect of humblebragging was
reduced (from b!'.66, p%.001, to b!'.18, p!.013), and
liking was a significant predictor of perceived sincerity (b!.80,
p%.001). A 10,000-sample bootstrap analysis revealed that the
95% bias-corrected confidence interval for the size of the indirect
effect excluded zero ['.67, '.31], suggesting a significant indi-
rect effect size of .06. We also examined the proportion of variance
mediated by both our proposed mediator and the reverse medita-
tional models by assessing the ratio of indirect to total effect
(Preacher & Kelley, 2011). With sincerity as the mediator between
condition and liking (as in our conceptual account) this ratio was
.87 with 95% CI [.68, 1.13], whereas with liking as the mediator
between condition and sincerity, it was .73 with 95% CI [.56, .91],
suggesting that that the point estimate of the proportion for our
proposed model is higher. Table 6 shows the same analyses for
each mediational model for each study. Critically, in seven of the
eight mediational models, our proposed model has a higher ratio of
indirect to total effect, suggesting that, on balance, our proposed
model better accounts for the overall pattern of data.
General Discussion
The desire to present the self in desired ways is an inherent part
of social interaction (Goffman, 1959), with the motivation to make
a favorable impression typically stemming from two fundamental
desires: to be liked and to be respected (Baumeister, 1982; Ziv-
nuska et al., 2004). The majority of research in the self-
presentation literature has focused on an array of tactics people use
in an attempt to fulfill one of these purposes—such as bragging to
elicit respect, and complained or expressing humility to elicit
liking. The current investigation examines a novel self-
presentation strategy that aims to fulfill both of these fundamental
desires, humblebragging, exploring its typology, antecedents, and
consequences.
In seven studies, we demonstrated that despite its prevalence,
humblebragging fails to make a favorable impression. Study 1a,
Study 1b, and Study 1c documented that humblebragging is a
ubiquitous phenomenon in everyday life and takes two distinct
forms: bragging masked by either complaint or humility. Study 2
showed that compared with straightforward bragging, humblebrag-
gers garner more negative behavioral responses in a face-to-face
field setting. Study 3a documented that both complaint-based
humblebrags and humility-based humblebrags are less effective
than bragging in being perceived as likable or competent, and
Study 3b that complaint-based humblebragging is less effective
even than straightforward complaining. Study 4 demonstrated that
individuals employ humblebragging in a strategic but erroneous
effort to elicit sympathy and admiration simultaneously. Studies 2,
3a, 3b, and 4 explored the mechanism underlying the link between
humblebragging and negative outcomes, demonstrating that per-
ceived sincerity—a key predictor of favorable impressions—is a
psychological driver of the ineffectiveness of humblebragging. In
sum, the insincerity signaled by humblebragging manifests in
dislike.
Theoretical Contributions
Our research makes several theoretical contributions. First, we
contribute to the impression management literature by identifying
and examining a distinct self-presentation strategy. Prior research
has identified several self-presentation tactics that individuals use
in an attempt to achieve liking or appear competent, such as
Table 6
Statistics for Alternate Mediations across All Studies
Study Mediation b95% CI
Ratio of indirect to total
effect for original
meditational analyses
Ratio of indirect to total
effect for alternate
meditational analyses
3a Liking as a mediator between
condition and perceived sincerity
from b!'.66, p%.001 to
b!'.18, p!.013
['.67, '.31] .87 [.68, 1.13] .73 [.56, .91]
Perceived competence as a mediator
between condition and perceived
sincerity
from b!'.66, p%.001 to
b!'.17, p!.006
['.70, '.31] .98 [.81, 1.23] .75 [.58, .92]
3b Liking as a mediator between
condition and perceived sincerity
from b!'1.10, p%.001
to b!'.37, p!.011
['1.00, '.48] .74 [.53, 1.00] .67 [.49, .90]
Perceived competence as a mediator
between condition and perceived
sincerity
from b!'1.11, p%.001
to b!'.64, p%.001
['.73, '.20] 1.15 [.81, 2.16] .42 [.23, .60]
4a Liking as a mediator between
condition and perceived sincerity
from b!'.52, p%.001 to
b!'.13, p!.12
['.57, '.22] .77 [.54, 1.10] .73 [.50, 1.02]
4b Liking and perceived sincerity as
mediators between condition and
allocation
from b!'.36, p!.033 to
b!'.15, p!.35
['.13, '.004.] .17 [.02, .99] .11 ['.0001, .86]
5 Liking as a mediator between
condition and perceived sincerity
from b!'.82, p%.001 to
b!'.22, p!.065
['.83, '.39] .63 [.43, .90] .73 [.53, 1.03]
Perceived competence as a mediator
between condition and perceived
sincerity
from b!'.82, p%.001 to
b!'.50, p%.001
['.56, '.17] .89 [.55, 1.66] .43 [.23, .67]
Note. We report meditational analyses using 10,000 sample bootstrap analysis with 95% bias corrected confidence intervals (CIs).
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17
HUMBLEBRAGGING
flattery, ingratiation, and complaining (Arkin, 1981). Here, we
examine a previously undocumented—and common—strategy that
aims for both goals, augmenting the literature on impression man-
agement. We provide evidence from both the field and laboratory
to document the ubiquity of humblebragging, and provide the first
empirical examination of why people frequently employ this strat-
egy despite its mixed consequences.
Second, we shed light on the pivotal role of perceived sincerity
in impression management. Sincerity plays a critical role in deter-
mining the success of four seemingly different self-promotion
strategies: Humblebragging fails because people perceive it as
insincere compared with bragging, or complaining, or expressing
humility. These findings build on prior research suggesting that
moral character and perceived sincerity (Brambilla et al., 2012;
Goodwin et al., 2014; Leach et al., 2007) play a crucial role in
determining overall impressions of others, on research that shows
people who are perceived to be insincere are more likely to be seen
as not likable and untrustworthy (Jones & Davis, 1965; Stern &
Westphal, 2010), and on research in organizational behavior dem-
onstrating the importance of also integrity in eliciting trust (Butler,
1991; Mayer et al., 1995). Here, we show that perceived insincer-
ity also negatively influences perceptions of competence, offering
further support for the critical role that sincerity plays in impres-
sion formation.
Third, our research advances our understanding of the relevance
of indirect speech to impression management. Previous research
has identified other indirect means of self-promotion, such as
praising close associates (Cialdini et al., 1990; Schlenker & Wei-
gold, 1992). We document a novel type of indirect speech that
does not divert attention to other people but rather attempts to
divert attention from the bragging nature of the claim via a com-
plaint or an attempt to appear humble. Humblebragging is an
indirect speech attempt because the intent of the self-presenter (to
self-promote) is couched in other language rather than directly
stated (Lee & Pinker, 2010; Pinker, Nowak, & Lee, 2008). Our
research suggests that in the contexts that we investigated, indirect
speech can backfire.
Future Directions
In addition to these contributions, our studies also point to
possible directions for future research. First, further studies could
deepen our understanding of the emotional and cognitive conse-
quences of humblebragging. Although we focused primarily on the
reactions of observers of humblebragging, future research should
examine the emotional experiences of humblebraggers themselves.
Previous research reveals that self-promoters, despite facing social
disapproval and negative consequences in interpersonal relation-
ships (Colvin, Block, & Funder, 1995; Leary, Bednarski, Ham-
mon, & Duncan, 1997; Paulhus, 1998; Schlenker & Leary, 1982),
can also experience positive emotions and increased self-esteem
(O’Mara, Gaertner, Sedikides, Zhou, & Liu, 2012; Scopelliti et al.,
2015). These possible intrapsychic benefits may offer another
explanation for people’s use of humblebragging. Another possi-
bility is that humblebragging may constitute a particularly miscali-
brated case: Humblebraggers experience positive affect from both
bragging and from the positive feeling that they are not actually
bragging, whereas recipients react negatively to both the self-
promotion and the attempt to mask it. In addition, recent research
on humility suggested that humility can take two distinct forms
with different intrapsychic effects. Appreciative humility—actions
focused on celebrating others—is associated with authentic pride
and guilt, whereas self-abasing humility— hiding from others’
evaluations—is associated with shame and low self-esteem
(Weidman et al., 2016). Humblebragging may also cause individ-
uals to experience these emotions; future work should explore
these possibilities.
Future studies could also deepen our understanding of the ef-
fectiveness of humblebragging as an impression-management
strategy for different audiences. In our experiments, we typically
focused on situations in which actors humblebragged to strangers.
Future research could investigate whether relationship closeness
influences individuals’ propensity to employ humblebragging as a
strategy. People use different self-presentation strategies with dif-
ferent audiences, using more self-enhancing statements with
strangers but shifting toward modesty with friends (Tice et al.,
1995), suggesting that people may be more likely to use humble-
bragging as a strategy with friends. Indeed, relationship closeness
between the self-presenter and the audience may also moderate the
consequences of humblebragging: Friends may react less nega-
tively to humblebragging than strangers because people may per-
ceive their friends as higher in overall sincerity. In addition, future
work should also investigate the moderating role of gender in
humblebragging. Prior research shows that self-promotion is more
risky for women (Rudman, 1998), and similar effects may occur
with humblebragging.
Future research should also identify characteristics that moder-
ate the negative consequences of humblebragging. Prior research
suggests that self-promotion in response to a question is perceived
more favorable than direct bragging (Tal-Or, 2010); thus, humble-
bragging may also be perceived more favorable when it is solic-
ited, such as when responding to a compliment or while receiving
an award. It is also possible that in these solicited cases, the source
of the brag, would not be the self, but other individuals—which
makes self-promotion more acceptable and favorable (Scopelliti,
Vosgerau, & Loewenstein, 2016). In addition, the perceived status
of the humblebragger may make humblebragging more or less
legitimate in the eyes of others, altering the likelihood of the
success or failure. If a high-status person engages in humblebrag-
ging, observers may find it more credible, whereas low-status
individuals may face more backlash.
Finally, although our studies provided a taxonomy of different
classes of humblebrags, we primarily compared the effectiveness
of humblebragging with straightforward bragging and straightfor-
ward complaining. Future research should also investigate the
effectiveness of humblebragging against actually being humble.
There is, however, a lack of consensus among researchers about
what constitutes humility (Weidman et al., 2016), in part because
claiming humility usually indicates a lack thereof: Stating that one
is humble is in itself form of bragging. Thus, an important avenue
for future work is to investigate whether and how people can
effectively convey humility, and how effective expressions of
humility compare with humblebragging as self-presentational
strategies.
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18 SEZER, GINO, AND NORTON
Conclusion
We identified and offered psychological insight into the phe-
nomenon of humblebragging, an increasingly ubiquitous self-
promotion strategy. Although a large body of prior research has
documented different impression-management strategies, humble-
bragging is a previously unexplored—and uniquely ineffective—
form of self-praise. The proliferation of humblebragging in social
media, the workplace, and everyday life suggests that people
believe it to be an effective self-promotion strategy. Yet we show
that people readily denigrate humblebraggers. Faced with the
choice to (honestly) brag or (deceptively) humblebrag, would-be
self-promoters should choose the former—and at least reap the
rewards of seeming sincere.
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Received December 13, 2015
Revision received June 19, 2017
Accepted June 20, 2017 !
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23
HUMBLEBRAGGING
... However, bragging is considered a high risk act (Brown and Levinson, 1987;Holtgraves, 1990;Van Damme et al., 2017) and can lead to the opposite effect than intended, such as dislike or decreased perceived competence (Jones et al., 1982;Sezer et al., 2018;Matley, 2018). It is, thus, paramount to understand the types of bragging and strategies to mitigate the face-threat introduced by bragging as well as how effective the self-presentation attempt is (Herbert, 1990). ...
... Despite its pervasiveness and importance in online communication, bragging has yet to be studied at scale in computational (socio) linguistics. The ability to identify bragging automatically is important for: (a) linguists to better understand the context and types of bragging through empirical studies (Dayter, 2014;Ren and Guo, 2020); (b) social scientists to analyze the relationship between bragging and personality traits, online behavior and communication strategies (Miller et al., 1992;Van Damme et al., 2017;Sezer et al., 2018); (c) on-Type Definition Tweet ...
... In addition, competence related statements are more likely to be negatively perceived than those based on warmth (e.g. the ability to form connections with others) (Van Damme et al., 2017). Common mitigation strategies include speaker's attempts to deny compliments, shifting focus to persons closely related to them, reframing bragging as praise from a third party, admitting the bragging act through disclaimers (e.g. using #brag) or expressing it as a complaint (Wittels, 2011;Sezer et al., 2018), question, narration or sharing (Dayter, 2018;Matley, 2018;Ren and Guo, 2020). The success of self-presentation strategies are also impacted by the social context (Tice et al., 1995) or speaker identity (Paramita and Septianto, 2021). ...
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Bragging is a speech act employed with the goal of constructing a favorable self-image through positive statements about oneself. It is widespread in daily communication and especially popular in social media, where users aim to build a positive image of their persona directly or indirectly. In this paper, we present the first large scale study of bragging in computational linguistics, building on previous research in linguistics and pragmatics. To facilitate this, we introduce a new publicly available data set of tweets annotated for bragging and their types. We empirically evaluate different transformer-based models injected with linguistic information in (a) binary bragging classification, i.e., if tweets contain bragging statements or not; and (b) multi-class bragging type prediction including not bragging. Our results show that our models can predict bragging with macro F1 up to 72.42 and 35.95 in the binary and multi-class classification tasks respectively. Finally, we present an extensive linguistic and error analysis of bragging prediction to guide future research on this topic.
... Yet, despite its purported ubiquity in social media, self-praise remains an under-researched topic both from a psychological and pragmatic perspective (cf. Dayter 2014;Dayter 2016;Dayter 2018;Matley 2018;Sezer, Gino, and Norton 2015). ...
... The current study aims to address this research gap by investigating attitudes towards self-praising Instagram posts labelled #brag and #humblebrag, hashtags frequently used with self-aggrandising discourse (Matley 2018). Building on previous research (Matley 2018;Sezer, Gino, and Norton 2015;Van Damme, Hoorens, and Sedikides 2016), it presents the results of an experimental study among 117 students of English at a Swiss university. It examines attitudes to bragging and humblebragging in terms of the impact of both types of self-praise on factors such as likeability and modesty, and on the perception of the illocution of the speech act. ...
... Literal self-praise (bragging) was operationalised by utterances with a clear focus on self-promotion and competitiveness following Hoorens et al. (2012) and Miller et al. (1992), such as "I work out harder than you", coupled with congruity between text and image such as a photo of the poster in the gym. Ironic self-praise (humblebragging) was operationalised as self-praise formulated as a complaint following Sezer, Gino and Norton (2015), such as "I'm so out of shape" coupled with text-image incongruity. Hashtag use was operationalised by formulating the sentences in three different modes: no hashtag, or with #brag or #humblebrag. ...
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Self-promotion has become widespread on social media. From a pragmatic perspective, self-praise is a face-threatening act. Yet despite its prevalence as a self-presentation strategy, there has been little research into the speech act of self-praise or into attitudes towards self-promoting discourse. The current study addresses this deficit in an experimental study of attitudes to Instagram posts labelled #brag and #humblebrag. The subjects, 117 students of English at a Swiss university, rated literal ("bragging") and ironic ("humblebragging") self-praise on a range of factors such as likeability and the perceived illocution of the utterance. Both bragging and humblebragging were perceived negatively. Hashtag use had a significantly higher impact on the perception of self-praise, suggesting that hashtags function as illocutionary force indicating devices (IFIDs). The results contribute to an understanding of the pragmatic functions of hashtags, the perception of irony in social media and the role that self-praise plays in presentation of the self online.
... Yet, despite its purported ubiquity in social media, self-praise remains an under-researched topic both from a psychological and pragmatic perspective (cf. Dayter 2014;Dayter 2016;Dayter 2018;Matley 2018;Sezer, Gino, and Norton 2015). ...
... The current study aims to address this research gap by investigating attitudes towards self-praising Instagram posts labelled #brag and #humblebrag, hashtags frequently used with self-aggrandising discourse (Matley 2018). Building on previous research (Matley 2018;Sezer, Gino, and Norton 2015;Van Damme, Hoorens, and Sedikides 2016), it presents the results of an experimental study among 117 students of English at a Swiss university. It examines attitudes to bragging and humblebragging in terms of the impact of both types of self-praise on factors such as likeability and modesty, and on the perception of the illocution of the speech act. ...
... Literal self-praise (bragging) was operationalised by utterances with a clear focus on self-promotion and competitiveness following Hoorens et al. (2012) and Miller et al. (1992), such as "I work out harder than you", coupled with congruity between text and image such as a photo of the poster in the gym. Ironic self-praise (humblebragging) was operationalised as self-praise formulated as a complaint following Sezer, Gino and Norton (2015), such as "I'm so out of shape" coupled with text-image incongruity. Hashtag use was operationalised by formulating the sentences in three different modes: no hashtag, or with #brag or #humblebrag. ...
Article
Self-promotion has become widespread on social media. From a pragmatic perspective, self-praise is a face-threatening act. Yet despite its prevalence as a self-presentation strategy, there has been little research into the speech act of self-praise or into attitudes towards self-promoting discourse. The current study addresses this deficit in an experimental study of attitudes to Instagram posts labelled #brag and #humblebrag. The subjects, 117 students of English at a Swiss university, rated literal (“bragging”) and ironic (“humblebragging”) self-praise on a range of factors such as likeability and the perceived illocution of the utterance. Both bragging and humblebragging were perceived negatively. Hashtag use had a significantly higher impact on the perception of self-praise, suggesting that hashtags function as illocutionary force indicating devices (IFIDs). The results contribute to an understanding of the pragmatic functions of hashtags, the perception of irony in social media and the role that self-praise plays in presentation of the self online.
... Approval motivation goes hand-in-hand with modified self-presentation. Selfpresentation involves an effort to employ varying self-promotional techniques (e.g., humblebragging; Sezer, Gino, & Norton, 2018) to create the desired persona for a target audience in the attempt to fulfil a social goal (Leary, 1995;Schlenker & Pontari, 2000). Classic, strategic self-presentation involves using self-enhancing presentations to create the best possible impression (Schlenker & Leary, 1982) and to reduce negativity in selfimages (Baumeister, 1982;Baumeister & Jones, 1978). ...
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Researchers have examined self-objectification-viewing oneself as an object rather than a subject-in terms of its impact on intrapersonal factors, such as mental health and cognitive performance. However, few have examined how self-objectification relates to interpersonal factors. The present research addressed this gap by testing the impact of self-objectification on social approval motivation among women. Study 1 (n = 103) found that individual differences in self-objectification correlated positively with approval motivation. Study 2 (n = 94) replicated these results and found that women who reported higher self-objectification were more willing to modify their social media profile pictures unrealistically. In Study 3 (n = 100), higher self-objectifying women were more willing to unrealistically modify their profile pictures even if this exceeded normative levels, which was replicated in Study 4 (n = 199). These results suggest that women's self-objectification is associated with a desire for approval from others and this desire manifests in a willingness to modify self-presentation.
... We argue that in these instances, from the target's view, the ethical concern for the actor is lessened as the unsavoriness of the perceived tacticality of the behaviors is mitigated by the perceived authenticity of the behaviors. In support of this assertion, research on self-promotion-an impression management strategy whereby actors attempt to appear competent to targets by drawing attention to their accomplishments and best features (Jones and Pittman 1982)-suggests actors are better off bragging about legitimate self-aggrandizing claims ("I am pretty") than they are trying to cleverly hide the claims ("I am so tired of coworkers hitting on me all of the time") via feigned humility ( Sezer et al. 2017). The reason is because targets would prefer actors be more honest in their image-related efforts, instead of trying to be covert and sly, and thus insincere. ...
Article
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Ingratiation is an impression management strategy whereby actors try to curry favor with targets, and is one of the more pervasive social activities in a workplace. An assumption in the literature is that a target’s awareness of the tactical purposes behind ingratiation (e.g., “he merely wants a raise”) is an ethical concern which triggers suspicions of ulterior motives and casts the actor as distrustful. However, this assumption fails to consider alternative explanations in that ingratiation may also be perceived as occurring for authentic purposes (e.g., “he really wants to be liked”). This alternative view may cause targets to cast the actor differently, and thus presents an intriguing ethical paradox where actors could be recognized by targets as trustful, distrustful, or some level in-between. This research draws on behavioral ethics and attributional models to investigate supervisor trust of employees who engage in ingratiation. We report two studies that examine perceived tactical ingratiation, perceived authentic ingratiation, and their interaction as predictors of supervisor trust using multisource data from two field samples. Across the two studies, we find positive interactions between tactical and authentic ingratiation as predictors of trust and trustworthiness. Study 2 also shows that combined tactical and authentic ingratiation predicts the trustworthiness dimensions of benevolence and integrity, but not ability. The results suggest that ingratiation is portrayed somewhat bleaker than necessary in the literature, and that when actors engage in tactical ingratiation that is also deemed authentic, targets respond with less concern than the literature would suggest.
... One type of indirectness is a "humblebrag" or self-praise + complaint, presenting the laudable attribute as something to complain about (see Example (2)). Although interviews suggest that humblebragging is less effective than sincerity when it comes to creating a positive image of the speaker (Sezer, Gino, and Norton 2015), social network users readily resort to it in their non-solicited self-praise (Dayter 2016;Matley forthcoming). This subtype of self-praise has a convenient surface indicator, a hashtag #humblebrag and its variants, which is vastly popular on social media and lends itself well to harvesting and linguistic study. ...
Article
In contrast to the assumptions of linguistic research on face-to-face interaction, CMC studies have shown that self-promotion is acceptable and even desired in certain online contexts. However, investigations of self-praise online repeatedly refer to the specific features of internet environment or internet communities that cause a temporary suspension of the constraint against self-praise. The constraint itself is treated as somewhat of an axiom. The assumption is, therefore, that the speech act of self-praise is face-threatening and disruptive and can only occur when certain conditions prevail, for example, when a disclaimer #humblebrag is provided. In the present study, I look at self-praise in private WhatsApp chats. Until now, self-praise has been investigated in broadcasting contexts of Twitter and Instagram. On the basis of the existing description of these naturally occurring episodes of self-praise, a retrieval strategy is developed to identify self-praise in a corpus through queries for collocations of lexical markers. An analysis of the episodes of self-praise retrieved from the WhatsApp corpus and some preliminary results from the corpus of spoken American English support the tentative hypothesis that self-praise is an unmarked speech behaviour that is a part of an everyday speech act repertoire. The existing claim about its special status could be explained through a combination of intuitive assumptions carried over from the influential studies of the pre-corpus era, and the retrieval methods that targeted the modified self-praise.
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Firms increasingly seek to improve the online shopping experience by enabling customers to exchange product recommendations through social augmented reality (AR). We utilize socially situated cognition theory and conduct a series of five studies to explore how social AR supports shared decision making in recommender–decision maker dyads. We demonstrate that optimal configurations of social AR, that is, a static (vs. dynamic) point-of-view sharing format matched with an image-enhanced (vs. text-only) communicative act, increase recommenders’ comfort with providing advice and decision makers’ likelihood of using the advice in their choice. For both, these effects are due to a sense of social empowerment, which also stimulates recommenders’ desire for a product and positive behavioral intentions. However, recommenders’ communication motives impose boundary conditions. When recommenders have strong impression management concerns, this weakens the effect of social empowerment on recommendation comfort. Furthermore, the stronger a recommender’s persuasion goal, the less likely the decision maker is to use the recommendation in their choice.
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Humility is considered a virtue.
Article
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide insight into how female entrepreneurs develop and communicate an authentic personal brand. We examine the entrepreneurial marketing (EM) activities undertaken by female entrepreneurs and identify the Impression Management (IM) behaviours and tactics employed. We explore the risks associated with self-promotion to gain a better understanding of how female entrepreneurs market themselves and their businesses. Design/methodology/approach The study adopts an interpretative phenomenological approach (IPA). Using semi-structured interviews, we explore the experiences of female entrepreneurs as they engage in IM behaviours. The sample is drawn from female entrepreneurs who have small-scale businesses which span a range of specialist service sectors. All participants are engaging in personal branding activities. Participants were recruited via a gatekeeper and invited to take part in the study. Data from eleven female business owners was collected and analysed using IPA. Interview transcripts and field notes were analysed for broad patterns and then initial codes developed which allowed for themes to emerge, with a number of core themes being identified. These core themes are presented, together with verbatim quotes from participants to provide a rich insight into the marketing activities of these female entrepreneurs. Findings The findings reveal the complex challenges faced by female entrepreneurs as they engage in self-promotion and IM to market their business. Four key themes emerge from the data to explain how female entrepreneurs engage in managing their brand both online and offline: experimental; risk; authenticity and supplication. The study identifies in particular that female entrepreneurs use the tactic of supplication in combination with self-promotion to communicate their brand. Additionally, it was found that female entrepreneurs share their personal fears and weaknesses in an attempt to be seen as authentic and manage the risk associated with self-promotion. Originality/value We contribute to the EM literature by extending our understanding of the risks associated with self-promotion for female entrepreneurs. The study also contributes to the IM literature by providing a better understanding of IM beyond organisations and applied to an entrepreneurial domain. The study highlights a number of important implications for entrepreneurial practice and policy.
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In this research, we examined self-promotion and ingratiation as correlates of citizenship behavior and desired outcomes in work teams. Results of a cross-sectional study using a combination of self- and peer-report data from student work teams suggested that two dimensions of citizenship behavior, i.e., altruism and conscientiousness, were partly a function of ingratiation and self-promotion. Further, ingratiation was found to be positively associated with individual satisfaction within teams and the extent to which individual members were perceived as likable among their peers. Peer perceptions of the motivation underlying ingratiation and self- promotion also had a positive relationship with liking for team member such that the more sincere a motive is perceived to be, the more positive the perception of liking for team member.