People Hate HumbleBraggers, Harvard Researchers Say

Researchers have discovered what people think.

April 28, 2015, 12:02 PM
PHOTO: People rate humblebraggers as less sincere and less attractive, a new Harvard Business School paper says.
People rate humblebraggers as less sincere and less attractive, a new Harvard Business School paper says.
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— -- A team of Harvard Business School professors have scientifically proven what you probably already knew: People loathe and despise the humblebrag.

The humblebrag is a self-compliment wrapped in a complaint, the authors say in their new Harvard Business School paper.

In the humblebragger’s attempt to come off as sincere and authentic, they appear immodest and frankly, less attractive, the authors suggest in their report.

In the paper, Harvard Business School professors Francesca Gino, Michael I. Norton and Ovul Sezer, performed a series of experiments to test people’s perceptions of the humblebrag.

In one test they asked their subjects to imagine the person who said one of three statements. One statement was a flat out boast (People mistake me for a model.) One was a whiney complaint (I’m so bored.) And the last was the hybrid humblebrag (I’m so bored of people mistaking me for a model.)

When the team asked more than 300 subjects to judge a person based on each statement, they liked the complainers the best and the humblebraggers the least. Complainers were also perceived as the most sincere, while humblebraggers as inauthentic and obnoxious.

In another experiment, people either read a brag (“I get hit on all the time”) or a humblebrag (“Just rolled out of bed and still get hit on all the time, so annoying.”) More than 200 subjects rated the humblebraggers as less attractive than the braggarts -- 4.34 on a scale of 7 compared to 4.91.

The act of humblebragging has undoubtedly been with us since the dawn of time but the term was only coined in 2012 by "Parks and Recreation" writer Harris Wittles who died earlier this year. Wittles’ @humblebrag Twitter account lives on with 245,000 followers.

It’s loaded with gems like this classic from actress Olivia Munn: “Why can't I look cool when I meet @TomHanks & he hands me his Emmy? Instead I get so excited & look like a goober…”

And this one from country singer Cody Alan: "I just won an ACM, but don't worry I'm still stuck like everyone else in a Taco Bell drive-thru right now. @ACMAwards #ACMs”

The moral? If you’re fishing for a compliment, trying to disguise it will only backfire, the Harvard paper concluded. Let your swagger shine though.

The paper said "our results show, 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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