Humblebragging Can Make People Dislike You


The next time you’re about to humblebrag you might want to resist doing so; humblebragging can make people dislike you.

In case you’re not familiar with the word, Merriam Webster defines humblebrag as “to make a seemingly modest, self-critical, or casual statement or reference that is meant to draw attention to one’s admirable or impressive qualities or achievements.” Humblebragging happens when you want to boast about something but pretend to be modest about it. Here’s an example from Kim Kardashian:

Alternatively, if you complain about something most people would desire, you’re also humblebragging. An example from Tyra Banks:

Humblebrag is a portmanteau of the words humble and brag. It’s typically credited to Harris Wittels, a producer for the TV sitcom Parks and Recreation, who in 2010 created the Twitter account @Humblebrag to collect examples and later published them in a book.

Humblebrags are commonplace, partially because talking about ourselves triggers the same pleasure response in our brains as sex or food. In one research survey, 70% of ~600 respondents could recall a humblebrag they had recently heard. The same survey showed the complaint humblebrag is more common than the modesty one.

In a series of experiments, researchers compared the likeability and competence of braggers, complainers, and humblebraggers. Even though bragging is frowned upon, researchers found braggers were perceived as more likeable and more competent than humblebraggers – largely because braggers came across as more genuine. Complainers were also judged better than humblebraggers on both dimensions.

Since humblebragging can make people dislike you and think you are less competent, you’re better off basing your self-promotion strategy with straightforward bragging. But there’s actually a better way.

People who brag through an intermediary (aka a secondhand bragger) are better liked and seen as more competent than those who self-promote. Research shows secondhand bragging also elicits fewer negative emotions such as envy and annoyance. This effect is why we are more likely to believe the effusive praise of a candidate when it comes from a search firm than from the candidate themselves, even though we know the firm has a financial incentive for the candidate to be hired.

Humblebraggers beware. We’re on to you and we don’t like it.

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