Character  &  Context

Pride: Strength or Sin? The Impact of Nonverbal Displays of Pride on Hiring Decisions

A woman smiles confidently as she responds to an interview question

Picture this. You’re sitting in a job interview talking to someone who will help determine whether or not you get the job. They start asking you about something on your resume – a project you’re particularly proud of, one that you worked really hard on. You can’t help it: you start to lift your head a little higher, sit up straight, pull back your shoulders, puff out your chest. But will this nonverbal display of pride actually help you get the job?

It might. At the University of British Columbia’s Emotion & Self Lab, Jessica Tracy studies nonverbal expressions of pride. Her research shows that displays of pride like these automatically communicate high status, and being perceived as high status by your interviewer could certainly help you get the job.

But her new research shows that it’s not always that simple. In fact, displays of pride can sometimes backfire. To understand why, think about how you might perceive someone walking around looking prideful. Do you see them as someone self-assured and agreeable? Are they well-liked, with many close friends? Or do they swagger around seeming aggressive and narcissistic, with problematic relationships and seemingly few close friends?

Tracy describes how “authentic pride,” leads to the former outcomes, while “hubristic pride” leads to the latter. And whether or not nonverbal displays of pride are interpreted by perceivers as authentic or hubristic determines whether this pride is helpful or harmful in job interviews. In one study, participants were asked to watch recorded videos of job applicants displaying pride, rate whether they were seeing authentic or hubristic pride, and determine whether or not they would hire this applicant for the job. When participants perceived the pride as authentic, they were likely to hire them, but when participants perceived the same videos as full of hubristic pride, they were unlikely to hire them. And researchers have yet to determine exactly what makes a perceiver interpret this display of pride as authentic or hubristic. In fact, it doesn’t seem like people are very good at reliably distinguishing between authentic and hubristic pride.

So, what to do in that job interview? It seems like even if you have good reason to be proud of your accomplishments, you might want to try and dial back your nonverbal display of pride. Because displaying pride is risky: you never know if such a display will be perceived as a strength or a sin.


Written By: Kari Leibowitz. Kari Leibowitz is a 4th year PhD student in social psychology and a Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow. Kari works in the Stanford Mind & Body Lab and her research involves leveraging psycho-social forces to improve healthcare experiences and outcomes.

Session: “Hot Sh*t or Piece of Sh*t? The Directly Opposing Impact of Pride Displays on Social Judgments and Decision-Making,” part of symposium, Nonverbal Expression of Positive Emotion: New Advances and Social Functions, held Saturday, February 9, 2019

SpeakerJessica Tracy, Emotion & Self Lab, University of British Columbia

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