The Personality of a Bragger
May 22, 2019 | Summer
If you think that all braggers are narcissists, new study shows why they're not.
Everyone is familiar with, and tired of, people who brag. There is the clear annoyance you feel about the “humble bragger,” whose social media posts might include “complaining” about having to take a business trip to an exotic location because someone wants to meet with them. That post is intended to make humble braggers seem important by showing that they are so much in demand that the company is willing to pay for a weekend in Waikiki. The complaints are there, we may presume, to neutralize the act of bragging.
You’d feel much better if these people would just say something like “looking forward to” x, y, or z instead of putting on the pretense of being so inconvenienced by the trip that they have to broadcast it to the world. The other kind of braggers take a different approach to the art of trying to impress. They will pretend not that they’re unhappy about something great, but that they’re doing something much greater than is actually the case. Part of the pretense of this type of bragger involves claiming to be something they’re not. Why do people do this? Are they driven by the narcissistic need for admiration?
A new study by Humboldt Universität zu Berlin’s Doreen Bensch and colleagues (2019) zeroes in on the overclaiming form of bragging to find out who is the most likely to engage in this particular impression management strategy. The study was motivated by an interest that researchers in personality measurement have in identifying people who try to look better than they are in psychological tests. If participants try to make themselves look good, they will put a positivity spin on every question that they believe can show them in a favorable light. One form of self-enhancing fabrication is social desirability, in which test-takers choose not to admit to behaviors that could put them in an unflattering light. They may claim, for example, that “my table manners at home are as good when I eat out in a restaurant” or that “I never resent being asked to return a favor.” If you answer “true” to a number of these items, the researcher can infer that you are also trying to make yourself look good in the actual tests of interest. Overclaiming still may be an index of a person’s need for self-enhancement, though, and in fact may be a more purified form of the process. It’s not just that overclaimers want to look more honest, socially skilled, or more able than they are, but that they feel it’s important to appear to be familiar with a wide range of topics about which they have no knowledge. An overclaimer, in other words, can’t stop from “faking.” Narcissism doesn't even enter into the equation because such a person simply enjoys being a show-off.