An essential quandary of social life is how to let others know we’re awesome, without letting them know we want them to know. Is there a way to harvest the reputational benefits of self-promotion while avoiding its costs?
Research exposes boasting’s pitfalls. For example, when we brag, we miscalculate how others will react. In one study, self-promoters overestimated the extent to which their audiences would feel “proud” and “happy,” and underestimated their annoyance. And when people were asked to share five facts about themselves, those who were told to sound interesting succeeded only in sounding more boastful and unlikable than those who weren’t given additional prompts . In another study, people disliked explicit self-superiority claims (“I am better than others”) more than implicit claims (“I am a good person”) because the stronger claims appeared to denigrate the listener .
Speaking of being a good person, a caution: Broadcasting your own generosity impresses others only if they were previously unaware of it. In one study, a Facebook update about giving money to a food bank made the poster seem more altruistic than did a post about going out to eat—unless his Facebook friends already knew about the donation, in which case they saw him as less altruistic after he boasted about it .