Expressions of Pride: Instinctive and Useful

proud-person-clipart-cliparthut-free-clipart-monobl-clipartWhy do we feel pride? Is pride even something to be avoided?

This is a difficult question to answer, and Humintell congratulates Dr. Jessica Tracy for presenting a novel account of the emotion of pride in her acclaimed Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success.

In this book, Dr. Tracy finds that pride can serve as a powerful motivating factor, encouraging humans to feel good about themselves and their accomplishments in a way that drives them towards greater success. Importantly, she presents research demonstrating that pride and expressions of it are innate parts of human experience, rather than being learned from peers or developed by cultural factors.

If pride is innate, she argues, it likely has “an adaptive function” or a good reason for being developed. Dr. Tracy argues that this reason is to bolster motivation and a drive to succeed. She describes the phenomena of “authentic pride,” which involves feeling satisfaction for engaging in activities that strengthen one’s self-esteem and sense of individual identity. This form of pride encourages humans to continue pursuing these sorts of activities.

Dr. Tracy supported her conclusion with a series of studies, including an experiment conducted with university students. It turned out that students who had done poorly on exams and reported a lack of pride in their work were actually driven to study harder and perform better on subsequent tests. While analyzing the data, she found that this very lack of pride inspired them to work harder.

Years earlier, in 2008, Humintell’s own Dr. David Matsumoto worked with Dr. Tracy to demonstrate that pride in one’s accomplishments and its expression is universal among humans, a crucial argument in Dr. Tracy’s book.

In that study, Dr. Tracy and Dr. Matsumoto analyzed photos of one hundred Olympic judo competitors that had been taken just after they either won or lost a match. Interestingly, the sample included representatives of 37 nations, as well as Paralympic competitors who had been blind since birth.

After these competitors won the match, almost every single one showed signs of pride by tilting their heads back or expanding their posture. Notably, this occurred regardless of cultural background or the ability to see, suggesting strongly that this expression of pride is inherent in us as a species.

As Dr. Matsumoto said, “This is a phenomenon that is occurring in people all around the world, in people who are blind and never saw it happen… There is something wired in us to do that at that particular moment.”

However, Dr. Tracy cautions that pride is not always good. If a person is feeling proud, not because of personal satisfaction, but because their actions are lauded by peers, it can often turn into hubris. This form of pride is actually bad for human motivation, she explains, as it encourages people to enjoy the attention they derive from others, rather than work to improve self-esteem.

Dr. Tracy warns that hubris encourages us to perform for “the recognition, and the fame, and the praise.” Instead, we must learn to recognize whether our pride is “authentic” and derive satisfaction from our own self-fulfillment, rather than from external validation.

For more information, check out this blog on the universality of shame and this one on displays of dominance in sports.

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