False Pride Seen as Survival Skill

A proud person could be either genuinely self-confident or falsely arrogant, a new review of studies finds.

The results showed people tend to link pride either with accomplishment and confidence, which the authors term authentic pride, or they connected it with self-aggrandizement and arrogance, called hubristic pride.

While authentic pride was associated with more positive personality traits than the hubristic type, both emotions must have provided some survival benefit for our ancient ancestors, the researchers suggest.

Two sides of pride

Jessica Tracy and Richard Robins of the University of California, Davis, reviewed several past studies of human behavior related to pride.

They found that like other basic emotions, expressions of pride are recognized across age groups and cultures. Just as a stream of tears and down-turned lips signal sadness, a subtle grin, slightly inflated chest and hands on hips can imply a person’s pride.

When a person feels authentic pride, he or she was more likely to score high on extraversion, agreeableness, genuine self-esteem and conscientiousness. Hubristic pride was most often linked with narcissism and shame. 

“It’s this self-aggrandizing self-esteem rather than genuinely feeling really good about yourself,” Tracy told LiveScience. “There’s this sort of underlying insecurity to it and competitiveness.”

Work ethic also differed between the two faces of pride. People who held inner, achievement-based feelings of pride viewed hard work as the key to success in life, whereas hubristic individuals tended to perceive success as predetermined and based on inherent abilities. 

Social survival

The scientists suggest that both types of pride could have benefited our ancestors. In that way, pride would be similar to the so-called basic emotions, such as fear, sadness and anger, which are thought to have evolved as means of survival. For instance, an onslaught of fearful emotions could keep a person safe from danger. 

“We believe [pride is] an evolved emotion, but it’s a little bit more indirectly related to survival,” Tracy said. “To the extent that it allows us to survive, it does that by helping us maintain our social relationships with others, sort of maintain our place in the social hierarchy.”

In the distant past, while a display of genuine self-esteem might have signaled a person’s altruistic behavior, hubris might have been a social “short cut,” a way to trick others into paying one respect. If they couldn’t attain respect the old-fashioned way, the scientists suggest, our ancestors figured out how to act accomplished.

The study is published in the June issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.