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Humblebragging: A Distinct – and Ineffective – Self-Presentation Strategy

77 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2017 Last revised: 30 Aug 2017

Ovul Sezer

Harvard University, Harvard Business School, Students

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit

Date Written: February 24, 2017

Abstract

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 understudied self-presentation strategy: humblebragging. Across seven 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, and compliance with requests. Despite being more common, complaintbased humble-brags 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 both to 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, competence, liking, sincerity

Suggested Citation

Sezer, Ovul and Gino, Francesca and Norton, Michael I., Humblebragging: A Distinct – and Ineffective – Self-Presentation Strategy (February 24, 2017). Harvard Business School Marketing Unit Working Paper No. 15-080; Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 15-080. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2597626 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2597626

Ovul Sezer

Harvard University, Harvard Business School, Students ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Michael I. Norton (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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