There is surprisingly little research in psychology on bragging, though there is plenty on the related concept of narcissism, where you become excessively full of pride (even though you may not feel that way on the inside). There is also a great deal of research on the flip side of bragging, which is depression and low self-esteem. Fortunately, University of Manchester social psychologist Susan Speer (2012) provides us with an excellent article on the less pejorative term “self-praise.” Her work highlights the ways to brag that will get you in trouble along with the one way that is reasonably acceptable. She bases these on two considerations: epistemology and social norms.
The epistemology of bragging refers to the question of whether something you say about yourself can be verified or not. How do I know you’re telling the truth when you claim to have achieved some great outcome? If you tell me but don’t give me hard evidence, I have to rely on your word and your word alone. When bragging is based on your self-report only, you run the risk of not being believed.
The social norms of bragging refer to the fact that our culture expects people to be modest. People who aren’t modest violate those expectations. There is also a practical side to this social norm. Impression management is all about leading others to view you favorably. If they think you’re trying too hard, they’ll be turned off and you’ll achieve exactly the opposite of your desired impact on others. This is especially true if the qualities you’re showing off aren’t the ones that interest the other person. As Shania Twain sings “So you’re a rocket scientist, that don’t impress me much. So you got the brain, but have you got the touch?”
Bragging Type #1. Directly drawing attention to your own great personal qualities.
Bragging Type #2. Directly drawing attention to something you’ve done.
Bragging Type #3. Indirectly drawing attention to your own great personal qualities.