A Tale of Two Prides
Recently, President Joe Biden gave his inaugural address, attempting to unify a divided nation and place an emphasis on love and compassion. He asked, “What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans?” His list was long: Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And yes—he said—the truth.
One item left off his list—indeed, left out of his whole speech—was the idea of pride. It’s an interesting omission for me to realize, as a pride researcher, but one that perhaps alludes to the difficulty when using such a term. Pride can be seen as a good thing (pride in our country, and maybe unity in this shared identity), but pride can also be viewed quite negatively. As the classic saying goes, “pride goes before a fall.”
This duality has intrigued philosophers for centuries, and has entertained psychology researchers for almost two decades. In 2004, Jessica Tracy and Rick Robins offered their two-facet theory of pride (which they further clarified in 2007), suggesting that there might be two types of pride, and the confusion is that our language uses the same term for both. To fix this issue, they provided more precise labels: authentic pride is a genuine experience of pride, felt due to one’s accomplishments or successes (I did something great!); hubristic pride is when one feels pride in one’s innate abilities, regardless of context (I’m such a great person!). (“Hubris” comes from Greek tragedy, when a person’s defiance of the gods leads to their downfall.)
Many researchers latched onto this useful dichotomy (so much confusion, cleared up!) and began studying pride in this way, using a standard self-report measure created by Tracy and Robins.
The questionnaire is really simple, as you will see from some example items. You simply have to ask yourself, in general, how accomplished do you feel? successful? confident?
Then, you ask yourself, how snobbish do you feel? arrogant? pompous?
Your answers to the first give you information on your authentic pride, aka AP. Answers to the second set give you your hubristic pride score, aka HP.
With such terminology, it’s pretty easy for anyone to see that AP seems like a generally good way to feel, and HP has quite negative connotations (does anyone really want to feel snobbish?). What I wanted to know was what the research had to say about just how good AP is, and just how not-so-great HP is, in terms of people’s daily lives. That is, if people feel a lot of AP, do they also show other positive personality traits or ways of thinking? In contrast, do people high in HP show more negative patterns?
To answer this question, Rick Robins and I located all of the relevant research, collected all of the results, and figured out how the two kinds of pride differed.
We conducted 103 analyses on 94 different studies, which were based on 64,698 participants (not to brag, but I am proud of the work!). Taken together, they paint a clear picture of the contrast between AP and HP.
When a person experiences a lot of authentic pride, it’s likely that they also experience a number of other healthy traits: self-esteem, positive emotion, agreeableness, self-efficacy, and feelings of prestige and merit. They also show less likelihood of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and aggression. In contrast, when someone has high hubristic pride, they show much more negative patterns. They experience more negative emotions, anxiety, and aggression, while experiencing less self-esteem, patience, and self-control.
This work relies solely on correlations, so we can’t know if AP and HP cause these patterns of traits. Nor does this work necessarily speak to the accuracy of the two-facet model, or the accuracy of the self-report measures. But it does strongly suggest that parents everywhere are on the right track: authentic pride is a good thing—something we should want our children to feel. But just feeling proud of yourself without real basis -- and communicating that hubristic pride to others—might not be psychologically healthy or a winning style in the long run.
For Further Reading
Dickens, L. R., & Robins, R. W. (2020). Pride: A meta-analytic project. Emotion. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000905
Tracy, J. L., & Robins, R. W. (2004). Putting the self into self-conscious emotions: A theoretical model. Psychological Inquiry, 15, 103–125. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327965pli1502_01
Tracy, J. L., & Robins, R. W. (2007). The psychological structure of pride: A tale of two facets. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 506-525. DOI: 10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2066
Leah Dickens is an assistant professor of psychology at Kenyon College and an associate editor of Character & Context. She studies emotions, focusing primarily on pride and gratitude.