Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2017

Humblebragging: A Distinct—and Ineffective—Self-Presentation Strategy

by Ovul Sezer, Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton


Self-presentation is a fundamental aspect of social life, with myriad critical outcomes dependent on others’ impressions. We identify and offer the first empirical investigation of a prevalent, yet understudied self-presentation strategy: humblebragging. Across seven studies including a week-long diary study and a field experiment, we identify humblebragging—bragging masked by a complaint or humility—as a common, conceptually distinct, and ineffective form of self-presentation. We first document the ubiquity of humblebragging across several domains, from everyday life to social media. We then show that both forms of humblebragging—complaint-based or humility-based—are less effective than straightforward bragging, as they reduce liking, perceived competence, and compliance with requests. Despite being more common, complaint-based humblebrags are less effective than humility-based humblebrags and are even less effective than simply complaining. We show that people choose to deploy humblebrags particularly when motivated both to elicit sympathy and impress others. Despite the belief that combining bragging with complaining or humility confers the benefits of each strategy, we find that humblebragging confers the benefits of neither, instead backfiring because it is seen as insincere.

Keywords: Humblebragging; impression management; sincerity; liking; competence; interpersonal perception; Self-presentation; Perception; Marketing; Trust; Personal Development and Career;


Sezer, Ovul, Francesca Gino, and Michael I. Norton. "Humblebragging: A Distinct—and Ineffective—Self-Presentation Strategy." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-080, April 2015. (Revised February 2017.)