Humblebragging has more or less become an embedded part of the discourse on social media, to the point that it's not even worth calling it out anymore. But that doesn't mean humblebrags are any less irritating, and now Harvard Business School researchers have confirmed just how off-putting the practice is.
The research team analyzed the differences between complaining, straight-up boasting and humblebragging. In their working paper released last Monday (April 20), they concluded that you can't have it both ways. People would much rather be around whiners or braggarts than wishy-washy humblebraggers.
The study defines humblebragging as "bragging masked by a complaint." In case anyone has had the good fortune of never coming face-to-face with a humblebrag, the researchers offer a couple examples: "Hair's not done, just rolled out of bed from a nap and still get hit on, so confusing!" and "Graduating from 2 universities means you get double the calls asking for money/donations. So pushy and annoying!"
Study participants rated social media posts and specific phrases in a set of five experiments. In one experiment, they read a complaint, a brag and a combo humblebrag. They then rated how much they liked the hypothetical person making these statements and how sincere the person seemed. Complainers had the highest approval rating in both categories, and humblebraggers were at the bottom.
The authors noted that "humblebragging has both global costs -- reducing liking and perceived sincerity -- and specific costs: it is even ineffective in signaling the specific trait that a person wants to promote."
So, humblebraggers try to hedge their bets by conveying both sincerity and impressiveness but end up coming off as inauthentic and smug. Think about it: Larry David has made an entire career out of complaining, and Kanye West's fame has grown as his boasts have. But can you think of anybody who's built an empire out of humblebragging? We thought so.