Pride can be a deadly sin or a healthy part of human expression, says psychology researcher Jessica Tracy – photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 6 | Jun 7, 2007
By Lorraine Chan
Does pride always lead to our downfall? A UBC researcher is exploring different dimensions of the emotion. And her findings suggest pride only goes before a fall when it’s hubris — excessive pride that veers into self-aggrandizement and conceit.
But otherwise, this emotion is fundamental to humans and healthy self-esteem, says Psychology Asst. Prof. Jessica Tracy.
“There’s good pride and there’s bad pride,” says Tracy, whose research is among the first to explore the different facets of this emotion.
Tracy and co-investigator Prof. Richard Robins, University of California, Davis, have established that pride has two faces: hubristic and authentic. They developed their theoretical model after conducting a range of studies where participants consistently came up with two distinct categories to define and characterize pride.
“The two different facets show us that hubristic pride reflects feelings of arrogance, grandiosity and superiority,” says Tracy.
An example she gives is of someone finishing a task and instead of focusing on their achievement, will think, “I’m a really great person.”
By contrast, authentic pride reflects achievement and mastery, a sense of: “I worked really hard and deserve that praise.”
Tracy says the latter has positive outcomes, while “hubristic pride is associated more with narcissism, which can lead to inter-personal conflicts.”
There were few measures available to study the emotion’s duality, so Tracy developed an assessment tool — the first of its kind.
The measurement is a self-report scale that offers the respondent a selection of words to describe feelings and views on pride. “Arrogant,” “conceited” and “egotistical” would indicate hubristic pride while “achieving,” “accomplished,” “productive,” “confident” and “fulfilled” indicate authentic pride.
These various shades of pride are important when it to comes to better understanding and treating people for such issues as low self-esteem, says Tracy.
“Shame correlates with pride. If present, pride may be able to reinforce peaceful and productive behaviours,” notes Tracy. “Its absence, caused by humiliation or ego threats, could provoke aggression or other antisocial behaviours.”
She says pride has received little research attention in the past since it didn’t fit easily into the category of “primary emotions” such as fear, anger or joy. Instead, pride is categorized as a “self-conscious emotion,” which develops out of social interaction with others.
What particularly fascinates Tracy is how this emotion has evolved through time and continues to shape human social dynamics. For example, the darker side of pride may have evolved out of the age-old human desire for status.
“Authentic pride might motivate behaviours geared toward long-term status attainment,” says Tracy, “whereas hubristic pride provides a ‘short-cut’ solution, granting status that is more immediate but fleeting, and in some cases, unwarranted.”
Another area of Tracy’s work explores how pride is immediately recognizable to others when translated into body language. “Anyone watching hockey sees the pride expression when someone scores. The player raises his arms up, tilts his head back and puffs his chest out.”
To test her theory about the universality of the pride expression, Tracy conducted research between 2003 and 2005 in Toussiana, a rural village in Burkina Faso.
The villagers spoke only their native African language, Dioula, and could not read or write. Working with a translator, Tracy asked them to describe what they saw in the photographs of male and female white Americans and West African, who displayed different emotions.
“We asked them whether they knew George Bush or Tom Cruise. They didn’t. So if these people recognized pride, it wouldn’t be because they had seen Westerners showing it, on TV or in the movies. ”
Looking at the photos, the villagers identified pride along with the other six basic emotions — anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.
“We saw that recognition of the pride expression does cut across cultures.”
Tracy has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to conduct further studies in Burkina Faso on pride expression.