[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success with your host, Matt Bodnar.
[00:00:12.4] MB: Welcome to The Science of Success. I’m your host, Matt Bodnar. I’m an entrepreneur and investor in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’m obsessed with the mindset of success and the psychology of performance. I’ve read hundreds of books, conducted countless hours of research and study, and I am going to take you on a journey into the human mind and what makes peak performers tick, with the focus on always having our discussion rooted in psychological research and scientific fact, not opinion.
In this episode, we discuss pride, why it may not be the deadly sin it’s often cracked up to be, we dig into how research defines pride, examine the critical distinction between self-esteem and narcissism, the deep importance of being able to accept criticism, and look at the difference between strategies of dominance and strategies of prestige with Dr. Jessica Tracy.
The Science of Success continues to grow, with more than 725,000 downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries, hitting number one New and Noteworthy, and more. I get listener comments and emails all the time asking me, “Matt, how do you organize and remember all this incredible information?”
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In our previous episode, we discussed what Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and others consider to be the single greatest threat to humanity, why death is not a binary event that makes you transition from being alive or dead at a specific moment in time, we asked if you would spend a thousand dollars on a chance to live forever, we looked at the biology behind cryogenics, vitrification, and putting your body on biological pause, and explored why poverty, climate change, war, and all of our problems melt away in the face of one extremely important issue with our guest Tim Urban from Wait but Why. If you love exploring relevant, highly fascinating scientific topics, listen to that episode.
[0:02:25.0] MB: Today, we have another fascinating guest on the show, Dr. Jessica Tracy. Jessica is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, where she also directs the Emotion and Self lab. She’s the author of Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success, she’s published over 80 journal articles, book chapters, edited volumes and reviews, and her ground-breaking work on Pride has been covered in hundreds of media outlets, including Good Morning America, NPR, New York Times, The Economist, and The Scientific American.
Jess, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:02:56.7] JT: Thank you so much, thanks for having me.
[0:02:57.7] MB: Well, we’re very excited to have you on here. For listeners who might not be familiar with you and some of your work, tell us a little bit about yourself.
[0:03:04.9] JT: Sure. I’m a researcher, a psychology researcher at the University of British Columbia. I teach psychology, but mainly what I do is do research, and most of my research is on emotions. The emotions that I kind of specialize in are the emotions that we call self-conscious emotions. These are emotions that are all about how we feel about ourselves. They typically include shame, guilt and pride. Pride is the one that I’ve really done the most research on.
[0:03:28.2] MB: Very exciting. Tell me a little bit, sort of what is pride? I know a lot of people have misconceptions or maybe don’t really understand it, obviously not to the degree that you do, but when people think of pride, they might not necessarily think of what you talk about. How do you define pride?
[0:03:45.1] JT: Yeah. Pride is, in its simplest terms, it’s the emotion that we feel when we feel good about ourselves. That can mean we feel good about ourselves for having accomplished something really big and really important, or even something small but that we worked hard for, or it could be that we feel good about ourselves because we just kind of are reflecting back and feel like, “Hey, you know, I’m pretty awesome. I’m really great.”
Those are two slightly different feelings, and we can talk about that, that pride is not one kind of simple thing, it’s two different things, and it’s most straightforward sense, it’s basically these positive feelings about one’s self.
[0:04:18.0] MB: When many people think of pride, it’s a deadly sin, pride cometh before a fall, all of that kind of stuff. Is pride something that’s negative?
[0:04:26.7] JT: Yeah, this is kind of the big issue that I was sort of implying, that pride can be negative, but it’s also positive. So what we found is that there are actually two different kinds of pride experiences. This is a really big important finding, because I think the failure to distinguish between these two prides has led to all kinds of confusion in many different ways.
On the one hand, we have the kind of pride that is all about feelings of self-confidence and self-worth. It is typically found in response to a hard-earned accomplishment, when you really work for something that’s important to you, and you achieve it, and then you feel good about yourself as a result. We call that authentic pride, and that’s because it’s based on an authentic sense of self. You’re sort of reflecting on who you are, and the hard work you put in a realistic manner.
That kind of pride is linked to all kinds of good outcomes. When you feel that kind of pride, it typically makes you want to keep on working hard. People who tend to feel it tend to be good people. They care about others, they care about their society, they want to help others, and they’re high in sort of achievement motivation.
But there is this other kind of pride as well. That’s the kind of pride that we feel when it’s not just that we feel good about ourselves, but that we feel like we’re really great, and even better than everyone else. This is the kind of pride that like arrogance, egotism, conceitedness, and we call this kind of pride hubristic pride. The word hubris, of course, comes from the Greeks, who talk about hubris in pretty much these terms. People who had hubris, according to the Greeks, were people who basically believed they were kind of like gods more than humans. That’s a little bit what hubristic pride is. It really is this almost godlike feeling, very self grandizing.
That kind of pride, we found, is linked to a lot of problematic outcomes. People who tend to feel it tend to be aggressive, they’re sort of manipulative of others, they take advantage of others in order to accomplish their own ends, or they’re sort of selfish and as a result, they have a number of psychological problems, they tend to succumb to depression and anxiety, they have trouble making close friends, they’re disliked by others around them.
There’s really a big distinction, these really are two different experiences in many ways, and yet in English, we refer to them with that same word, pride.
[0:06:23.2] MB: Tell me a little bit more about the distinction between authentic pride and hubristic pride, and why haven’t people kind of grasped that distinction before?
[0:06:32.8] JT: One reason that I think people haven’t grasped it, I guess I would say is because both prides do involve positive feelings about their self. It’s not that one is pride and one is anger. They’re not two totally different emotions. They are both this good feeling about the self. I think it’s pretty easy to say well, one’s just an extreme version, right?
You feel a little bit of pride, that’s authentic pride, you feel a lot of pride, that’s hubristic pride. That’s really not what it is. I think, you know, that’s an easy mistake to make, but there really is actually more of a qualitative, not just a quantitative difference between these two kinds of pride. One way to understand it from a psychological perspective is to think about the difference between self-esteem and narcissism.
Psychologists talk about self-esteem as this really great thing. We want our kids to have high self-esteem, and lots of studies have looked at high self-esteem and shown that basically, it’s really pretty much everything good that psychologists study. If there’s a good personality trait, or good behavior, or good social behavior, it’s linked to high self-esteem.
Narcissism, which is another topic that psychologists have studied for quite a while, is linked to all kinds of bad behaviors. Narcissists tend to be aggressive, they take advantage of others, they do all the things that I was saying before characterize people who feel a lot of hubristic pride. That’s because narcissism, unlike self-esteem, isn’t a genuine good feeling about the self, it’s not based on a realistic self-appraisal, it’s based on a more exaggerated sense of self.
That’s exactly what hubristic pride is. Hubristic pride is the emotion that fuels narcissism, and it occurs not when we’re kind of looking realistically at ourselves, and what we’ve done, and our accomplishments; but rather when we’re sort of taking this biased view of ourselves. This sort of inflated view of ourselves, where we really are motivated to see ourselves in the best possible light.
One thing I argue in my book is that the reason for this motivation is because deep down, people who are feeling hubristic pride really aren’t feeling good about themselves at all. You’ve got this kind of almost ironic process that happens, where when people, some people, feel bad about themselves, feel shame, those feelings are so painful to experience, rather than consciously accept them, they sort of burry them. They repress them, they pretend they’re not there, they try to avoid them.
One way of doing that, or one way to help do that, is to instead experience the opposite, right? You feel threatened in some way, someone maybe criticizes you, and instead of thinking god, I feel horrible about myself, you bury that. Instead, you say, “You know what? He’s an idiot. I’m the one who is great, I know everything, I’m better than everyone else. I’m going to show him,” and that’s what people who are narcissistic tend to do, and that seems to be a behavior associated with hubristic pride.
[0:08:57.2] MB: So deep down, many people who exhibit kind of narcissistic behavior, or as you call it, hubristic pride, they don’t feel good about themselves, and in many ways it’s sort of a manifestation of a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem?
[0:09:11.1] JT: Yeah, that’s exactly right. This is a fairly controversial idea. Some people who study narcissism say that’s not the case, narcissists just think they’re really great, and the reason that they get aggressive when other people challenge them is because it kind of annoys them to have other people challenge them when they know that they’re really great.
My view is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense, you know? You can sort of think about it logically. If you think you’re great and you have total confidence in that, you're not sort of underneath it all questioning that or feeling insecure about it. Someone comes along and challenges you in some way, and typically, in research studies, the way this is done is you’re asked to write a short essay about a topic that you may or may not have strong feelings about.
Spend five minutes or so on it, and you’re just doing it for some course credits. It’s really not something you’re deeply invested in anyway. You then submit the essay to who you think is another student, you get it back, and you find that the essay’s been sort of torn apart. This other student has written red marks all over it telling you how terrible they think it is.
You could imagine yourself in a situation, and again, if you’re someone who has a real genuine sense of confidence in yourself, you probably would respond to those criticisms by thinking, “Well, you know, I spent five minutes on that essay, it’s really not something I care about, this is no big deal.” Or maybe you think, “You know, I think my essay was pretty good. This guy, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. That’s fine, he can say what he thinks, and I’ll continue with my opinion.”
What the narcissist does is instead say, “That guy, I hate him.” He lashes out at that guy, and so studies show that narcissists will go to great lengths to punish the person who just gave them this negative feedback. They’ll blast them with loud noise, they’ll dose them with really spicy hot sauce. Whatever opportunity researchers essentially give them to punish these people, they’ll take it, and so my view is that we really can only explain that kind of extreme aggressive behavior in the situation by suggesting that well, underneath those feelings of confidence is really the opposite. It’s something else that the person is really desperately defending against.
[0:10:59.1] MB: That’s fascinating. You know, one of the things we’ve talked a lot about on the show is kind of the idea of accepting criticism, and being really open about feedback, and kind of understanding your own limitations. It seems like something that people who struggle with hubristic pride really can’t do is accept criticism.
[0:11:16.9] JT: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. That’s a huge limitation, and I think it’s one of the big findings about narcissism in general. It seems to be the case for hubristic pride that criticism is a real weak point, that it’s not acceptable to be attacked. These people can’t handle it.
I think that’s actually one reason to think about the distinction between authentic and hubristic pride, because if you can focus on authentic pride, your genuine accomplishments, the things you worked hard for, and have a realistic sense of self-confidence when based on what you actually did, rather than this artificial self-grandized perception that’s all about defending these unconscious feelings of insecurity, then you can accept criticism.
Then you can hear this negative feedback and say, “You know what? They’re right. I could do better,” or “They’re wrong. I think I did a really good job, and I disagree with this person,” but kind of take it either way and not get upset about it, and not get too upset about it. I think that’s a really, obviously, important thing to do for people in almost any work you meet.
[0:12:08.4] MB: I’d love to hear a little bit about some of your research background, and maybe starting with looking at pride displays, and some of the research you’ve done around Olympic athletes, and going to Burkina Faso, and all of those different stories.
[0:12:21.7] JT: Sure, yeah. When I started my research on pride, it was about 2003, and at the time, really, it’s fair to say pretty much no one had studied pride. There were sort of hints of it here and there, some developmental psychologists, people who study children had looked at pride and kids, but there really wasn’t a lot in the adults.
There’s a whole bunch of historical reasons for that, but one of the big factors is that emotion research really took off in the 1970’s and 80’s. When Paul Ekman famously traveled around the world and found that people everywhere recognize and show facial expressions and emotions in the same way. This is a really kind of ground breaking finding.
He very famously went to Papua New Guinea and studied people who were members of this small tribe, who have never seen a westerner before in their lives, and he showed them emotional expressions from the west and they identified them in the same way that westerners did. This was a big deal because it suggested emotions are universal, right?
If people all over the world identify emotion expressions in the same way, that has to mean that expressions aren’t something that each culture creates individually in its own way. Instead, it has to mean that emotions are a part of our human nature. They’re something we evolve to experience and display. That was a really kind of ground breaking finding at that time.
That was really great, but the downside of it was that Ekman studied and found evidence for the universality for only a very small set of six emotions. These six emotions, you know, you probably can maybe guess what they are, but anger, fear, sadness, disgust, happiness, and surprise. They do seem to be universal. They have these universal facial expressions, and they’re important in many ways, and sort of have all kinds of adaptive functions for humans.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other emotions out there as well that might also be adaptive and important. Yet, what people took from Ekman’s research is that actually, no, only these six emotions, only these six that have these universal facial expressions. Those are really the only kind of important emotions worthy of studying, fundamental to the human species.
When I started and got interested in pride in the early 2000’s, there really hadn’t been much done. Partly for this reason, it occurred to me that, you know, perhaps pride does have a universal nonverbal display. The thing about Ekman’s research was that it was really restricted to the face. He was very focused on finding the emotions that people show in their faces.
Pride, you can’t show it just from the face. If you look what a facial expression of pride looks like, you won’t be able to tell it from happiness. It looks essentially the same. However, when people feel pride, they do something distinctive with their nonverbal behaviors, it’s just that what they do involves their body as well as the face. You can think about this, right?
People who feel pride, yes, they smile, but they also tilt their heads upwards a little bit. They push out their chests, they pull back their shoulders, they basically make themselves expansive in various ways. Sometimes they raise their arms above their head and put their hands in fists. It’s really an expansive, very visually apparent display. We thought, “Well, you know, if we can show that display is also recognized as pride, or it’s recognized reliably by people all over the world, then that might mean that pride, much like these other six emotions, is a fundamental part of human nature.”
To do that, we basically began by having people pose expressions that we thought mapped on to what we expected pride to look like, and we tested whether other people recognized them, and we started just in California, where I was in grad school, and then we took it to Europe, and then eventually to Burkina Faso, as you mentioned.
We traveled to this country in west Africa, we were able to do studies with the help of a collaborator there, with people who very much had almost no exposure to really any culture outside their own, certainly to anyone in the west. These were people living in what anthropologists call a small-scale traditional society, basically living off the land in much the same way as their ancestors had for really for millennia.
They lived in mud huts with no plumbing or electricity, in the rural countryside of this country that’s incredibly poor. Burkina Faso is typically ranked as the second or third poorest country in the world, as a result of which, they have really no access to anything outside of their own country. There’s no media, at the time, there was no internet in these rural villages. Sometimes in the cities you can find it, but certainly not where we were doing our research. No magazines. Really no way for these people to have somehow seen a western pride expression, right? It’s hard to tell a story about how that could have happened.
When we showed them pride expressions posed by people form the US, we found that they recognized them. You know, they recognized them, and they were able to say, “Yeah, that’s pride.” That’s really good evidence that this expression isn’t something that’s unique to American culture, but rather something that’s universal, that is part of our nature, because again, it’s hard to explain how these people on the other side of the world would recognize this expression in the same way if it were not for the fact that humans as a species recognize the emotion this way, because we evolved to do that. We evolved to recognize the pride expression.
[0:17:01.6] MB: You also studied blind Olympians, right? They demonstrated the same expression.
[0:17:06.5] JT: Yeah, the Burkina Faso study was nice because we looked at recognition, but you know, recognition’s just kind of one side of demonstrating a universal expression. You also want to know people actually show this expression when they’re feeling pride. To do that, we looked at Olympians, these were Judo athletes in the 2004 Olympic games, and we just looked, we coded their behaviors after every match in that Olympics. We did that, we actually were fortunate to have photos taken by an official Judo Federation photographer.
They were really high-quality photos, very up close to these people, this guy was right on the mat with them, and there were moment by moment shots of every behavior these people engaged in while experiencing what’s probably the most intense pride of their lives if they won their match. We simply tested whether the behaviors these people showed, in fact, mapped on to this recognizable pride expression that we found to be recognized by people all over the world.
Sure enough, it did, and we found no differences by culture, so we looked at athletes and countries all over the world, and basically, no matter what country they were from, they tended to respond to the success experience by displaying pride. Then we looked at blind athletes. We looked at the Paralympics, where you have people who were blind, including people who were congenitally blind, meaning they were born blind and they’ve never been able to see.
The reason that’s really important is because here we have a group of people who literally could not have learned to display pride from watching others, right? They’ve literally never seen a pride expression. The athletes in countries all over the world probably had seen other people show pride. They’re professional athletes participating at the Olympic level, they’re obviously exposed to lots of cultures. For these blind athletes, that’s just not the case.
When we looked at how this people responded to success, we saw exactly the same thing. Just like athletes from countries all over the world who had sight, the congenitally blind athletes also responded to winning an Olympic match by displaying these pride behaviors.
[0:18:48.1] MB: Humans display pride in a similar way across many different cultures. Does that vary for displays of authentic pride versus hubristic pride?
[0:18:57.6] JT: That’s a great question, and it’s something that we’ve really kind of tried to look into in a number of different ways. The short story is no. Both authentic and hubristic pride are associated with the same inaudible expressions. The expansive posture, the little bit of a smile, the arms extended out form the body. People will see that and will sometimes call it authentic pride, sometimes call it hubristic pride, and really can’t reliably distinguish between the two.
Now, if we give them a little bit extra information, if we tell them something about the person showing pride, like for example, “This guy is known to be kind of arrogant. He thinks he’s really great,” then they’ll say, “Okay, that’s hubristic pride.” With context, they can make this distinction, but without it, we fail to find any clear sort of pattern, which I think is surprising in many ways, and I don’t want to say the story’s over there. I think future studies might find the distinction, but that seems to be what we found so far.
[0:19:46.4] MB: We talked about some of the downsides of narcissism and hubristic pride. What are some of the benefits of authentic pride?
[0:19:53.2] JT: Well, authentic pride is in large part what motivates us to want to succeed. Basically, authentic pride is what we feel when we’ve worked hard for a particular success, and it is essentially our mind’s signal for telling us that we are doing the right thing.
That is to say, we’re doing what we need to do to become the kind of person we want to be, which really means the kind of person our society wants us to be, because we all evolved to want to have this sense of self that we feel good about. Because doing so makes sure that you essentially stay included with our society, that people don’t reject us, and we gain status in our societies. Authentic pride is essentially the emotional signal that tells us we’re on track for doing that.
What that means is, authentic pride is incredibly rewarding. It’s one of the most pleasurable emotional experiences. We all really want to feel it, because it’s not just that we’re happy, it’s that we feel good about ourselves, right? We desperately want to feel good about ourselves, that’s just how we evolved to be.
As a result of that, we are very much motivated to want to attain authentic pride, and that desire is what pushes us to achieve in all kinds of ways. We had one interesting study, I think, that showed this, where we looked at undergraduate student’s responses to their performance on the exam. This is a real exam they took in their class, and we took a look at how well they did, and then we ask them to tell us how much pride they felt in response. Then we ask them a few weeks later, “Okay, are you going to study the same or differently for your next exam,” and then we looked at how well they did on that next exam.
It was interesting, because we thought, “Okay, the people who did well on that first exam, they’re going to tell us they felt a lot of authentic pride as a result, and then those pride feelings are going to motivate them to work even harder for the next exam, and they’re going to be even better.”
That wasn’t actually what we found. The people who did well, they did feel authentic pride, as we expected, but they didn’t change their work habits for the next exam. In fact, what they said is, “You know, I worked hard for the last exam, I did well, I feel good, I’m going to work the same way.” It’s sort of like, these are people who are performing at a really high level. They don’t actually need to change their behavior, and it’s probably more adaptive that they don’t change their behavior, and in fact, when they don’t, they still end up doing quite well on the next exam.
What was really neat, though, was that the people who didn’t do so well on that first exam, the students who sort of underperformed, many of those students told us they felt a lack of authentic pride in their performance. They essentially did not feel authentic pride in their performance. That lack of authentic pride, that is the absence of those feelings those people who told us about, that led them to tell us a few weeks later, “I am going to change my behaviors. I’m going to study differently for the next exam,” and those changed behaviors in turn led to an improved performance on the subsequent exam.
We were able to trace that improvement in their performance directly back to those missing feelings about authentic pride. It’s a bit of a complicated story, but the short version is, when people don’t do well, and people are missing that feeling of success and are able to recognize, “Hey, I’m not feeling that sense of confidence and self-worth that I want to,” that absence can actually directly motivate a change of behavior, which leads to improved performance.
[0:22:46.0] MB: The drive for authentic pride is what creates that motivation?
[0:22:51.0] JT: That’s exactly right. Yeah.
[0:22:52.3] MB: Earlier, you kind of briefly touched on the concept of emotions being adaptive. For somebody who is listening and doesn’t kind of understand what that means, could you contextualize that, and I think, sort of specifically within talking about pride?
[0:23:05.4] JT: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a good question in any case, because psychologists use the word “adaptive” in lots of different ways, which can be really confusing. Sometimes by adaptive people mean it’s good for you, it’s good for your mental health, and that’s actually not what I meant.
What I mean when I say adaptive is that it’s something that we as a species evolved to do or to have, because it increases our fitness. Fitness has a very specific meaning from an evolutionary perspective. It essentially just means increases your gene’s chances of replicating.
Basically, things that are adaptive are things that make it more likely that you're going to survive and reproduce, or survive long enough to reproduce. From that perspective, the reason pride is adaptive is because it helps us get status. The way that it does that, interestingly enough, varies for the two kinds of pride. This is where I think things get really interesting.
Because form a sort of a mental health perspective, authentic pride is adaptive and hubristic pride isn’t. Like I said, it can lead to all kinds of psychological dysfunctions and poor relationships. From an evolutionary perspective, both prides are adaptive, because they both help us get status, but they do it through very different pathways.
Authentic pride basically motivates us to achieve, as I just kind of explained, and as a result of that, it helps us get a kind of status that we call prestige. Prestige is essentially the kind of status that’s based on earned respect. Prestigious leaders are people who have achieved a great deal, they’re smart, they’re wise, they have various abilities that everyone else admires, and as a result of that, people look up to them and people willingly choose to defer to them, right? The group sort of thinks, “This guy knows what he’s doing. If I follow him, it’s going to be good for me, it’s going to be good for everyone. I’m going to learn a lot and everyone will benefit.”
That’s one way of getting status. There is another way of getting status as well, and this is what we call dominance. Dominant leaders are people who don’t necessarily contribute anything of value to the group, they’re not big achievers, they’re not people who have special competencies or skills, but they’re people who have control over some resource that everyone else in the group thinks is valuable.
For example, perhaps they’re particularly wealthy, or perhaps they’re just big and strong. They wield their control over that resource in their really manipulative and aggressive way, essentially threatening and intimidating other people, and forcing them to give them the power that they feel they want.
You can think of a dominant leader, sort of the boss who threatens his employees, right? “If you don’t do what I say, I’m going to fire you.” People give that boss power, right? Employees will do whatever the boss says, they’ll defer to him, but they don’t want to. They don’t’ respect him. They’re not giving him the power because they’re willingly choosing to, they’re doing it because they feel that they have no choice at all, and we found in some studies that both dominance and prestige are effective ways of getting social influence. Both of these tactics actually work in terms of getting ahead. They’re both going to be adaptive strategies, but one, prestige, seems to be really particularly facilitated by authentic pride, whereas dominance is facilitated by hubristic pride.
The reason for that is because hubristic pride, again, is an emotion that makes people feel like they’re better than everyone else, makes them willing to engage in aggressiveness and manipulation, basically topics that are required in order to take advantage of others, to advance their needs and desires, and basically puts people in a mental state that’s almost exactly what you would want in order to attain dominance, right? In order to sort of takeover, take control, be aggressive, and really just dominate others and force them to give you the power that you’re looking for.
[0:26:16.9] MB: The data shows that both paths can potentially be ways to achieve status and achieve what you want to achieve.
[0:26:24.3] JT: That’s right. We did a study in which we look at this, where we had undergraduates come to our lab and work together to complete a task, and they basically had to work together for about 20 minutes on this task. We did this because it’s sort of an ideal way to allow hierarchies to naturally form. Whenever you get a small group of humans together and don’t assign a leader, leaders kind of naturally emerge, right? Someone just takes charge, other people fall in line.
It’s just sort of how it works in our species. We wanted to know, well, how does this happen? What determines who gets control over the group? They did the task, and then afterwards we had everyone in the group rate everyone else in terms of how dominant and prestigious they were, how much they looked up to each person, and how much they were basically afraid of each person, and also how influential everyone was. Who really had influence over the group, and we also measured how influential everyone was by having outside observers watch videos that we had taken.
We recorded these interactions on video, had outside observers watch the videos, and then they told us who they thought the most influential people in the group were. That’s a useful way of kind of getting beyond just people in the group who now have come to know these people and have relationships. They’re going to be a little bit biased, and then actual influence in terms of the task itself. Who actually determined how the task played out? Who made the decisions about what the group was going to do for the task?
What we found was that the people in the group who were rated by their peers in that group as highly dominant were just as likely to get influence over the group as were the people who were rated by their peers as highly prestigious. In fact, there was actually no difference in terms of how effective dominance was as a strategy compared to prestige. Both were equally effective in terms of being rated as highly influential by your peers, being rated as highly influential by outside observers, and in terms of actually getting influence in terms of determining the outcomes on that task.
That suggests that even though, you know, people — dominant leaders, those people, we don’t like them. That’s what we found, in fact. The people who worked in these groups who told us they did not like the people who are dominant, they actually said they were afraid of them, but it’s still an effective way of getting power, right? Even though we don’t like these people, we give them power because we’re sort of afraid not to.
[0:28:21.6] MB: Despite the fact that they didn’t like the dominant leaders, they still followed them, listened to them and did what they want.
[0:28:29.0] JT: That’s exactly right, yeah.
[0:28:29.9] MB: It kind of makes me think of the old saying, you know, would you rather be loved or feared? It seems like the research demonstrates either one might work.
[0:28:37.5] JT: Yeah. Unfortunately, right. It sort of turns out either one might work. Now, that said, if you think about it that way, well, either one works, but one gets you power and love. People really like prestigious people. They respect them. They look up to them, and they also give them power.
The other gets you power, but tremendous hate. If you have the choice, you know, there’s sort of no reason to go for dominance over prestige if you have the option, right? If you can contribute something of value to the group, if you can be a nice person, if you can be helpful to others and still get power that way, that’s the better way to go. Simply because, you know, it’s not fun to be disliked. There’s all kinds of negative psychological consequences that I mentioned before.
The hubristic pride, and that comes with dominance as well. The thing about dominance is because they’re not liked, their staying power is going to be fairly limited. People will follow them and do what they say as long as they feel threatened or intimidated by them. As soon as they don’t, when a dominant loses his power for one reason or another. Perhaps, as it comes into question, or you can think of, you know, chimpanzees, the alpha male is no longer as strong as he once was, when that happens, that person’s going to lose all power.
In fact, perhaps even be exiled from the group, right? You see coalitions can form to overtake a dominant leader, because no one likes this person and everyone wants to get rid of him. In contrast, if you’re prestigious leader, even if for some reason you no longer have your power for whatever reason, perhaps you’re not as wise as you once were, your skills deteriorate, people will still find a place in the society for you because you retain your love, right? People really like you, and so they won’t kick you out of the group, even if you’re not as powerful as you once were.
[0:30:06.0] MB: Doesn’t some of the research show that dominance in some context was actually more effective than prestige?
[0:30:13.2] JT: Yes, so that’s this other study that we did more recently. So what we did there is we had groups work together again, and we assigned a leader in each case. We just randomly said one person in the group is going to be the leader, and we had them complete a bunch of different tasks together, and then afterwards, we looked at how well they did in all the tasks and we had everyone rate their leader on dominance and prestige again.
Our question was, “Who’s going to do better on this task, the groups that are led by someone who happens to be really high in prestige, or the groups that are led by someone who happens to be really high in dominance?” and we thought the prestigious leader was going to win the day. Everyone liked that experience better, they enjoyed it, and they would do better on the task, and that’s not what happened.
The groups led by a prestigious leader did do better on one particular kind of task. It was a task that required creative, out of the box thinking. So it’s called the brick test. Basically, people have to come up with as many creative uses for a brick as they can. It really is this exercise in spit-balling, feeling open, being comfortable with yourself and with your group, and it’s a fun exercise, and so a prestigious leader is actually very good at getting people to generate a lot of really creative answers in the brick test.
But the other three tasks that we gave them, which required more analytical thinking, reaching one right answer on a complicated logical test, for all of those tasks, groups actually did better if they were led by someone who is high in dominance. That really surprised us, and I think it’s very — potentially has really important implications in driving these corporations and what kind of leader we want for different tasks.
However, one caveat that I think is important to bear in mind, is because we randomly designed the leader in these cases, we the researchers said, “You’re going to be the leader,” that’s a situation where someone whose natural disposition is prone to prestige might not feel comfortable taking charge in the way that’s often necessary to reach a clear decision.
There’s a time when you can try for consensus for a long time, but eventually someone’s going to have to make the call and come to the conclusion. When you put someone who is high in prestige in charge, they might not feel comfortable doing that, and I don’t know that’s the case in the real world, when leaders who are high in prestige know that they are at that position because they deserve it, because they earned it, right? They worked hard to get there, and in those cases, it’s possible that people would be more willing to say, “Okay, I tried for consensus, but now it’s time and I’m going to make the call.”
Which I think is what dominant leaders were doing in our study, because people who are prone to that kind of personality, I think, don’t have a problem doing that. Who cares about if I deserve being here? I’m the leader, I’m going to make the decision.
[0:32:28.9] MB: So without delving into the actual politics of it, a strategy of dominance that’s caught many people by surprise, and someone you’ve talked about in the past, is Donald Trump. I’d love to hear your thoughts about that.
[0:32:40.1] JT: Yeah. Well, Trump is a great example of someone who has an extreme amount of hubristic pride. I used him in the book as an example of this, because he really just, throughout his life and his career, has had no problem being so explicit about how great he thinks he is. That’s fairly unusual to see that level of hubristic pride, and typically, even people who have a lot of hubristic pride often know there’s ways in which they’re supposed to cut it down, or show humility, or tame it back, basically, and Donald Trump has almost never done that.
So he’s a really nice example of that, and it’s been purely interesting to watch him in politics in the past couple of years, because he really has used the dominant strategy to get ahead, and what I mean by that is he wields his power in this incredibly aggressive manner. He attacks extremely vehemently anyone who criticizes him. So the studies I was talking about before, where people who are hubristic blast noise when they are criticized, that’s like Trump on Twitter.
If anyone criticizes him, he lashes out, and just incredibly angrily, and it’s been really effective. People are afraid to attack him. So I think the large reason why he won the primary election is because he attacked all of the other candidates so harshly that many of them backed down, and more importantly, republican activists who wanted to criticize him and perhaps support someone else couldn’t, because the repetitional costs were too strong.
He was attacking these people to the point where their reputations were being destroyed through social media, and they had to no choice but to back down to protect themselves, and so this is really how dominance works. People are afraid to take on a dominant leader. In the case of Trump, I think it’s because he’s very effective at using aggression and at the same time, gaining the support of a lot of people who see him as the tough guy who’s going to be on their side.
And then other politicians have really been afraid of angering those people, of angering his mob of supporters, who see him as the guy who’s going to fight for them, and so then he created this situation where there’s really no way for these people to take on Trump without risking angering the people whose support they feel they need.
[0:34:33.8] MB: It’s a fascinating and relevant real-life case study in some of the topics we’re talking about. Changing directions completely, at the beginning of the interview you touched on the concept of self-conscious emotions. I’d love to learn a little bit more about that and what those entail.
[0:34:49.6] JT: Sure, so self-conscious emotions are a special category of emotions that we experience as humans, and we don’t think any other animal experiences. There’s evidence that other animals have dominance and submission, and certainly that’s a precursor of pride and shame, that’s probably evolutionary origins of pride and shame. The lion, dominance and submission, we’ve seen it in other primates, but we humans are the only ones who really experience these self-conscious emotions, because we are the only ones who have a fully complex sense of self.
So humans are the species that basically can think about who we are, can hold that in our minds, and then evaluate it. We can think about “What kind of person do I want to be, and is who I am today, is that getting closer to the kind of closer to the person I want to be, or is it getting farther away? Do I feel good about the things I’ve done today, or do I not feel good about those things? Do I feel I need to change who I am right now?” These are really important cognitive processes, and we really do see them only in humans, and the emotions that we feel when we make these evaluations, those are the self-conscious emotions.
[0:35:45.1] MB: And I know you haven’t researched it in nearly as much detail, but I’d be very curious to hear about some of the research you’ve done with shame, and what your thoughts are about shame.
[0:35:54.9] JT: Yes, shame is, in many ways, the antithesis of pride, and I think it’s a really important thing. Whereas pride is motivating, both because we feel it, we want to feel it more because we like it, there are studies that show when we think about how much pride we’ll feel from doing something good, like resisting temptation, that gets us to be more likely to do that good thing. If we think about pride, we’ll resist temptation more.
Shame is not motivating in this way. There’s very little evidence to suggest that shame actually motivates people to change their behavior for the good. There’s evidence that suggests that when people feel ashamed they want to be different, they wish they had a different self, they really don’t like themselves. Shame is this horrible negative global feeling about the self, but it’s almost demotivating, because we feel so bad about our self in such a global way, we feel powerless and hopeless, and shame typically makes people want to hide and run away from their problems and escape them rather than try to approach then and do better.
So we actually have one study where we looked at recovering alcoholics. These are people who are newly sober, trying to sober up, and they came to our lab and we had them talk about the last time that they had a drink. We had them do this while they were on video, and so this is a really intense shame moment for these people. This is often defined when they’d bottom out, the moment that led to them to seek sobriety, and then we say goodbye to them, and then we have them come back to our lab about four or five months later just to see how they’re doing.
It’s really interesting, because what we find is in that the first time they come in, they talk about the last time they drank. We code their non-verbal behaviors while they’re talking about their drink for displays of shame, and displays of shame basically look like the opposite of displays of pride. Head is tilted down, posture is constricted and narrowed, they are hiding themselves away, and what we find is that the more shame these people show when talking about the last time they drank, the more likely they are to relapse when they come back four months later.
That is to say, the more likely it is that they’ve now had a drink or several drinks, and in fact, the amount of shame they show while talking about their last drink actually predicts the number of drinks they had consumed. So essentially, how bad the relapse is. So that’s a neat evidence that suggests that if we feel shame about something about ourselves, that’s not going to help us get over that thing. It’s actually going to potentially do the reverse and make us go ahead and do more of that bad thing, and I think that’s because we sort of think, “I feel terrible about myself. This is who I am, but there’s no getting out of it, so I might as well embrace it and just be this person.”
[0:38:10.1] MB: So how can we deal more effectively with shame?
[0:38:13.5] JT: I think the best solution to shame is to try to instead feel guilt. Lots of research suggests that guilt is the much more adaptive negative self-conscious emotion, because instead of being about the entire global self “I’m a bad person,” it’s much more focused on a specific bad thing that happened. So when we feel shame, we feel “I’m horrible,” but when we feel guilt, we feel “I did a bad thing. I messed up. I forgot something. I didn’t study hard for the exam,” and so there’s a solution there.
Rather than sort of the whole self being the thing that’s incriminated, it’s just one behavior that is problematic, and so you can change that behavior. You can say, “Okay, I’m going to study harder next time. I’m going to work more on this. I’m going to change what I did,” and studies do show that, in fact, guilt is motivating. It motivates people to fix the situation, to apologize if they hurt someone, and to basically try to do better in the future.
So that is really the best way to do it, and really the only way to do that is when something goes wrong, not to attribute it to who you are as a person globally, but rather to something more specific that you did.
[0:39:11.3] MB: I think that’s a really important distinction, and one that — we won’t go down this rabbit hole — but ties into, in many ways, some of the things we talked about many times on the podcast, which is the idea of the fixed mindset versus the growth mindset, and the notion of you can always change yourself. A related question, how do we cultivate authentic pride?
[0:39:31.7] JT: Well I think the best thing to do in terms of thinking about how to cultivate authentic pride is to think about the kind of person you want to be. I think this is a really interesting point that we often don’t do. We often are just living our lives day to day, getting by, everything is fine, not really thinking about whether we are becoming or doing the things that we need to do to become the kind of person that we really want to be.
To develop the sense of self that’s most important to us, to have that need that we can feel good about, and often if we do, what we realize is we’re not, but typically, more often what happens is we just feel like something is missing in our lives. In my book, I tell the story of Dean Karnazes, who’s this ultra-marathon runner who spent most of his life in a business career, and he was doing really well. He had one success after another, he had a happy marriage, all was fine, and then the moment he turned 30, he just had this overwhelming sense that his life was not going the way that he wanted it to.
That he wasn’t satisfied with the person that he was, and he couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but that night, he went out drinking with his friends to celebrate his birthday. His wife went home early, and this woman started flirting with him, and he realized he was close to possibly ruining his life flirting with an attractive stranger, and he just started running and running, all the way to his house in San Francisco, about 30 miles down the coast to Half Moon Bay in California.
This is someone who used to be a runner when he was in high school, but he hadn’t run in I think 10 or 15 years at that point. So you can imagine how he felt the next day, but what he realized during this amazing run was that that’s what he wanted to be doing. That he was someone who his sense of self was based on pushing himself physically to extreme levels, and that’s really what he needed to be doing with his life, and so he made that a priority and he started by on the weekends running.
Running nonstop, and started to do 24-hour runs, which is hard to believe, but they exist. Hundred-mile runs and eventually, he turned his whole life around and actually was able to give up his business career and parlay the running career into a profitable enterprise, and that’s not something everyone can do, but I do think figuring out who you are and what kind of person you want to be and what things you can do to best become that person, that’s really the answer to trying to achieve authentic pride.
[0:41:33.6] MB: What’s one piece of homework that you would give to somebody who’s listening to this episode?
[0:41:38.1] JT: Homework, that’s interesting. I guess I would say, like I said, think about if there’s something missing in your life in terms of attaining a sense of self-satisfaction. You can think about it as pride, but I think pride is tough. We often don’t like to talk about ourselves, just feeling proud of ourselves, because we get it confused with hubristic pride. So just think about satisfaction. What are you satisfied by in your life? Maybe it’s work. Maybe you’re bored at work and you’re not mastering things.
You’re not having opportunities to master new things, or maybe work is fine, but you don’t have an opportunity to be creative in your life, and you’re someone who really craves a creative outlet. Or maybe like Dean Karnazes, you want to physically punish yourself, or physically challenge yourself, I should say, and train for a marathon. I think thinking about that kind of thing can open up new windows, new avenues to think about things that people can do to start feeling more of a sense of authentic pride in their lives.
Again, it doesn’t have to be a career switch. It can be career switch, it can be picking up a hobby on the weekend, taking a photography class, helping out others, coaching your kid’s soccer team, there’s lots of different ways, I think, to get these feelings, but the first thing to do is to probably think about what’s missing? What am I not doing? What am I lacking in my life?
[0:42:40.2] MB: So we touched on the top of your new book, Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success. I’m curious, obviously, listeners who want to dig into this topic, that’s a great place to start, but what are some other resources you’d recommend for people who want to dig in and do some more research about this?
[0:42:56.8] JT: Well, I mean, it depends on what level the research is. The book is a good broad overview of all the work that I’ve done on pride, and that others have done, and then related topics on the things that we’ve been talking about, like sense of self, and identity, and evolutionary science. That’s one way to go, but if you want a more in-depth look, on my website all my research papers are available there. So anyone who’s interested can go to my website and check that out under publications.
You can download papers or take a look if you want the more scientific version of that kind of stuff, and then if you are interested in this topic more broadly of how to use psychology, or finding some social and emotional psychology to achieve in various ways, I think Angela Duckworth’s new book is a great version of that. She talks about grit, and I think grit is very much related to authentic pride. So that’s a book that people might be interested in seeking out.
For evolutionary science, more general, I always recommend Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate. It’s a bit of an older book, but it’s a fantastic book, and I think still the best book out there in terms of just generally understanding what is evolutionary psychology, how did our minds evolve and why, and it’s really a readable take on that, so I’d recommend that.
[0:43:58.1] MB: And where can people find you and the book online?
[0:44:00.9] JT: Sure. If you go to UBC, that’s University of British Columbia, so ubc-emotionlab.ca/take-pride, that will get you right to the book’s page, but if you just go to ubc-emotionlab.ca, you can see all of my work and the kinds of stuff that we do in my lab.
[0:44:17.4] MB: Well Jessica, this has been a fascinating conversation. Very surprising take on what many people consider a negative attribute, so it’s been really interesting to hear about your research and some of the really cool conclusions about authentic pride and prestige. So thank you very much for being on the Science of Success.
[0:44:35.5] JT: You’re welcome. Thanks so much for having me.
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