The BPS Research Digest covers an interesting study on the perception of boasting, looking at whether there are specific contexts in which bragging actually leads people to think more highly of you and whether there are those where people end up thinking you’re a bit of an arse.
It turns out, there are. Participants were asked to rate the character and personality of a chap called ‘Avi’ who boasted about his A grade exam performance in a number of scenarios. The results showed that bragging only had the desired effect when someone else brought up the subject that Avi wanted to boast about:
The crux of it: context is everything when it comes to boasting. If Avi’s friend raised the topic of the exams, Avi received favourable ratings in terms of his boastfulness and likeability, regardless of whether he was actually asked what grade he got. By contrast, if Avi raised the topic of the exams, but failed to provoke a question, then his likeability suffered and he was seen as more of a boaster.
In other words, to pull off a successful boast, you need it to be appropriate to the conversation. If your friend, colleague, or date raises the topic, you can go ahead and pull a relevant boast in safety. Alternatively, if you’re forced to turn the conversation onto the required topic then you must succeed in provoking a question from your conversation partner. If there’s no question and you raised the topic then any boast you make will leave you looking like a big-head.
I was interested that the study was from Israel and wondered how well the results apply to other countries.
I’ve informally noticed that the social acceptability of ‘talking oneself up’ varies greatly between countries – from the USA, where moderate self-praise is standard social currency, to the UK, where it is only acceptable when followed by a self-deprecating comment or joke, to Sweden where it is only acceptable when one is threatened by armed men or the future of the world hangs in the balance.
However, I’ve not been able to track down any studies on the topic, so I’m not sure how well my observations reflect the wider world.