Anyone who has ever created an online dating profile knows that coming off as cool and accomplished without seeming like a self-involved dolt is both an art and a very precise science.
For me, casually mentioning that I’m really good at, um, improving J. Crew catalogs with fart bubbles and sketches of Chtulu is an accomplishment worth sharing. But for my potential suitors, that admission could very well be an indication that I am an arrogant braggart.
Now, a new study has found that, as a matter of fact, sharing your accomplishments with others might not earn their fawning admiration after all. The research, published in Psychological Science, took a look at how people felt when they shared their own successes, as well as how they felt when others shared their successes—and turns out, there’s a pretty big gap between the two.
Researchers from City University London conducted three different experiments. In the first, they had 131 participants describe a situation: Half the group was told to describe an instance in which they had bragged to someone else. They were then told to describe the emotions they felt, as well as the emotions they believe the other person felt. The other half was told to describe a situation in which someone else had bragged to them, along with the emotions they felt and the emotions they believe the braggart felt.
The researchers confirmed their prediction that those who were doing the bragging (deemed “self-promoters”) experienced far more positive emotions than their audience (65.6 percent versus 13.8 percent). They also found that 37.5 percent of self-promoters really believed their audience also felt positively about the exchange.
In the second experiment, the researchers divided another 154 participants into two groups to complete the same survey from the first leg. The bragging group was told to “indicate the extent to which their counterpart had felt happy for, proud of, annoyed by, jealous of, angry at, upset by, and inferior to them.” Meanwhile, the group that had been subjected to bragging were asked to indicate their own levels of these feelings.
The results of this experiment suggest that those who brag overestimate how happy others are for them and their success, and completely underestimate how much they totally annoy others. But the researchers also unexpectedly found that those who bragged overshot another impact of their success—they definitely thought their accomplishments would make others feel jealous of them or even inferior, which was simply not the case.
In the third experiment, the researchers wanted to know how this disparity between the perceived impact of bragging and the actual impact of bragging affects behavior.
In the first part of the experiment, 99 participants were told to create a "profile" for themselves. Half (the control group) was told to describe five things about themselves with “work or education, sports or hobbies, your look or personality, your family, your social life” as suggestions. The other half was told that others would be evaluating their profile, and that they should write five things that would make themselves sound interesting to the readers.
Then, 456 other participants evaluated 10 of the 99 profiles and were asked to basically judge a book by its cover. They were told to rate the profiles by how much they liked the authors, their interest in actually meeting the authors, the likely success of the authors, and how much the author appeared to be bragging.
The researchers found that the people who wrote the profiles (regardless of which group they were in) were generally clueless as to how they would be perceived. Hilariously enough, even when the goal was to get others to be interested in meeting them, most people overdid it—the judges were not into their vibes and saw them as braggarts.
Of course, the findings are kind of unnerving—we do badass stuff all the time, and of course we’re going to share it with our friends and loved ones and possibly strangers on the Internet you maybe want to date. Does sharing the good news make you a self-centered jerk? Not necessarily. But life might be easier if you share things you’re sincerely proud of without worrying about what others think.