#Blessed: The Humblebrag Makes You Less Likable, Science Shows

What is your biggest flaw?

Most people who’ve applied for a desk job that includes an interview have received some variation of that question. A moment like that could tempt a person into humblebragging—that is, attempting to signal humility and gain respect by cloaking a positive trait or accomplishment in a seemingly neutral or self-deprecating comment. But a group of researchers says it doesn't work. 

GettyImages-508227682 A peacock lantern in London, England Chris Ratcliffe/Getty

Looking at this phenomenon more closely, their paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology makes the case that humblebragging will get you nowhere. The job interview scenario is just one of several that the researchers examined. And, all in all, their investigation backs up your gut-level irritation at anyone in your life or sphere of internet who posts “complaints” about their long-term significant others or their super stressful, high-paying jobs.

In one study, the researchers had people comb through a set of tweets compiled in the Twitter account @Humblebrag, and rate each one based on how humblebraggy it seemed. The researchers work off the premise that if you’re humblebragging, be it bemoaning the ugliness of your Emmys outfit or complaining about your modeling career, you’re trying to promote yourself. The researchers use likeability as a proxy for self promotion.  And—surprise, surprise—the users who were rated as tweeting the most humblebraggy things were rated as the least likable.  

Another study, as New Scientist details, tested this out in real life. The researchers had a young woman ask a number of college students to sign her petition. In her scripted speech she gave to each student, the petitioner reportedly either mentioned that she had her dream internship and funding to go to Paris, or mentioned those details with the added humblebrag: “Ugh it’s so hard to decide which one to choose.”

She received a significantly lower number of signatures when giving the humblebrag line.  

As to why that might be, the researchers have a couple ideas.

“Humblebragging is less effective than simply complaining, because complainers are at least seen as sincere,” the authors write.

Speaking to New Scientist, Ovul Sezer, one of the researchers on the study, suggests some alternative strategies. One idea is to have a friend do the bragging for you. And while much of this research does rely on self reports, which can only say so much, you might not need a published body of research to confirm what you already know.

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