Has Pride Gotten a Bad Rap?

The difference between authentic versus hubristic pride.

Posted Mar 01, 2019

Pride is typically viewed as a negative characteristic. It has been identified as one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” (and perhaps the “deadliest”). There is even a word for excessive pride: hubris. Admonitions regarding hubris date back to the ancient Greeks. 

Yet, pride’s bad rap may not be justified.

Pride has a critical role in promoting positive self-esteem that is vital to achieving and maintaining psychological heath. Researchers, such as Tangney and Tracy (2012), identify “authentic pride” as deriving from a person’s achievements being appreciated by others as well as by oneself. Experiencing pride influences how one thinks about one’s worth and abilities, and encourages self-confidence

Pride is a multi-faceted concept. It can be achievement oriented. It can have a prosocial component and one that reinforces relationships.

  • Pride is an emotional state that can be derived from one’s perceived accomplishments or achievements.
  • Pride is a behavioral motivator encouraging an individual to pursue and sustain effort toward a task or toward improving one’s performance.
  • Pride does not always have to be associated with an accomplishment; it may be related to a personal as opposed to a social value. Researchers, such as Miceli, Castelfranchi, and Pocobello (2017) note that “pride results from a comparison with an internal standard.” (p. 557).

However, the way in which people express their self-evaluation is critical in distinguishing pride from hubris. Hubris is accompanied by feelings, beliefs, or behavior reflecting superiority over others. Hubristic pride differs in many critical ways from authentic pride. Tracy, Shariff, and Cheng (2010) argue that authentic pride promotes positive and prosocial behaviors, whereas hubristic pride is associated with behaviors that are not prosocial. There is a further distinction between the two forms of pride. Authentic pride derives from hard work and specific accomplishments, in contrast to hubristic pride which may or may not be anchored in accomplishments; or if it is, there is an over-valuation of one’s talents or abilities or overall positive characteristics. 

Although pride and hubris both depend on internal and social standards (comparing oneself to others), the purpose for social comparison in hubris is for determining whether superiority over others has been achieved through inherent capabilities and accomplishments that not only the individual values but are socially valued as well. Thus, it is not surprising that hubristic individuals may be conceited, arrogant, and have a tendency to brag. Studies have found that there is an association between hubristic pride and interpersonal problems, self-destructive behaviors, aggression, and narcissism (Carver & Johnson, 2010). Hubristic pride is associated with aggression and impulsivity and tied to extrinsic values (such as a need for public recognition and social dominance). Authentic pride, in contrast, reflects self-confidence without self-promotion; it is associated with self-control and intrinsic values.

Miceli et al. discuss how hubristic pride is a positive assessment of oneself which may not be based in reality. Moreover, people with hubris are often arrogant and “full of themselves” to the point that it affects their relationships. Believing that you are superior to another and conveying that through your actions do not bode well for attracting and maintaining healthy relationships. Indeed, it is believed that part of the self-aggrandizement expressed by hubristic individuals is a function of underlying feelings related to shame (Tracy et al., 2010).

Although there may be certain characteristics of hubristic individuals that people find offensive, the more compelling concern is when such individuals are in positions of power with the ability to harm. Claxton, Owen, and Sadler-Smith (2015) write that, “Hubris in the business, political and military arenas has been characterized as excessive self-confidence, exaggerated self-belief and contempt for the advice and criticism of others.” (pp. 57-58) A critically important question then is, “How does one’s hubris affect judgment and decision-making?” Hubristic leaders attain a sense of self-confidence that may lead them to ignore, misjudge, or misinterpret situational realities. Moreover, they may be reluctant to accept the advice from subordinates. Thus, they are at great risk to make decisions and enact measures that can have disastrous consequences.

Owen and Jacobson (2009) discuss the clinical symptoms of “hubris syndrome,” most of which derive from the DSM-IV diagnoses of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Histrionic Personality Disorder. They propose that the syndrome develops only after an individual has been in a powerful position for some time and does not have an existing mental illness or brain damage. Some patterns of behavior are: “shows disproportionate concern for image and presentation; … manifestly has contempt for others; … loses contact with reality; resorts to restlessness, recklessness and impulsive actions;” (p. 1398). Clearly the judgments made by such leaders of commerce, government, or the armed forces can have a global impact. The possession of excessive self-confidence and desire for power is a dangerous combination; particularly, in the hands of those who disregard the suggestions of others and believe themselves to be exempt from legal or moral rules. 

Although hubris is often associated with some political, business, and military leaders as well as others in positions of power or status, it is not reserved for them alone. There are many people from all walks of life who believe in their superiority over others. Those who harbor hubristic pride tend to have fragile self-esteem and cannot tolerate failure; as bosses or other leaders, their subordinates may feel as if they are, “walking on egg shells.” Such individuals do not foster genuine relationships. 

Pride does not automatically mean hubris. Authentic pride is critical to goal achievement. It is important in enhancing a positive sense of self. Those with authentic pride tend to have realistic assessments of failures and successes and can learn from both. Authentic pride, whether in the context of business, politics, science, art, or interpersonal (family, friends), promotes optimism, generates new ideas, and creates opportunities. 

Pride has gotten a bad rap. It is good to reflect and take joy in your achievements; to view yourself as able to accomplish goals.

References

Carver, C. S., Sinclair, S., & Johnson, S. L. (2010). Authentic and hubristic pride: Differential relations to aspects of goal regulation, affect, and self-control. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 698-703. doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2010.09.004

Claxton, G., Owen, E., & Sadler-Smith, E. (2015). Hubris in leadership: A peril of unbridled intuition? Leadership, 11, 57-78.  DOI: 10.1177/1742715013511482

Miceli, M., Castelfranchi, C., & Pocobello, R. (2017). The ambiguity of pride. Theory and Psychology, 27, 550-572.  DOI: 10.1177/0959354317702542

Owen, D. & Davidson, J. (2009). Hubris syndrome: An acquired personality disorder? A study of US Presidents and UK Prime Ministers over the last 100 years. Brain, 132, 1396-1406.  DOI.org/10.1093/brain/awp008

Tangney, J. P., & Tracy, J. L. (2012). Self-conscious emotions. In M. Leary & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (2nd ed., pp. 446–478). New York, NY: Guilford Press

Tracy, J. L., Shariff, A. F., & Cheng, J. T. (2010). A naturalist’s view of pride. Emotion Review, 2, 163–177.  DOI: 10.1177/1754073909354627

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