Have you paid a second thought of when to brag and when not to? Social media has made publicizing one’s achievement easier than ever before. But will a potential employer see you as a braggart or value your achievements? Would your social work earn you respect or would you come off as insincere? Researchers from London Business School and Wharton, in their paper The Braggart’s Dilemma: On the Social Rewards and Penalties of Advertising Prosocial Behavior, said bragging could have a both positive and negative outcome depending on your audience.
Authors led by Jonathan Z. Berman, professor of marketing at the London Business School, Wharton doctoral candidates Emma E. Levine and Alixandra Barasch, and Wharton marketing professor Deborah Small, in their paper, which was recently published by the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing Research, said bragging could have a positive effect when the said achievement or behaviour is unknown to the audience. However, bragging does not help—and often hurts—when the prosocial behaviour is already known, because it signals a selfish motive.
The researchers take the example of an investment banker and a social worker. When the investment banker spoke about the community service work he volunteered to do, somewhat surprisingly, the researchers found that bragging actually paid off for the investment banker—by providing new information. “When the investment banker brags, people learn that in fact, he’s generous after all, whereas the social worker is already thought to be generous. So, bragging doesn’t pay in the case of the social worker,” they said.
Besides, the intention of talking about ones achievements also matters.
In another experiment, people were asked to make a pitch on video, advocating for a cause that they care about. After they agreed to do this, the researchers gave some of them a financial incentive to make a pitch. “We told them that for every $10 donated based on somebody watching their video, we would also send them $10 in return. Other participants received no such incentive,” they said.
The finding was a revelation.
“We found that donors gave less money on average when they viewed a video made by somebody who had received a financial incentive,” said Small. This is because even though they were unaware that the incentive existed, they could detect the level of sincerity. And the self-interest of an incentive taints the person’s ability to convey sincerity in their pitch, she said.