What Is The Purpose Of Pride?
Pride has perplexed philosophers and theologians for centuries,
and it is an especially paradoxical emotion in western culture.
We applaud rugged individualism, self-reliance and personal excellence,
but too much pride can easily tip the balance toward vanity, haughtiness
and self-love. Scientists have also been perplexed by this complex
emotion, because it is so unlike primary emotions like fear and
University of British Columbia psychologist, Jessica Tracy, and
Richard Robins of the University of California, Davis, have been
exploring the origins and purpose of pride, both in the laboratory
and in the field. They wanted to know if pride is as universal
as, say, joy or anger.
In the June issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science,
a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Tracy
and Robins review several recent studies on the nature and function
In one experiment, researchers used photographs of models with
varying facial expressions and body language, asking subjects
to identify the nonverbal signs of pride. And they did indeed
find a prototypical prideful look, which was recognized by children
as young as four, and people in many different cultures, including
members of an isolated, preliterate tribe in Burkina Faso, West
So, pride appears to be universal, but that still leaves the
question: What is it? What is its purpose? To explore this, Tracy
and Robins first asked people to come up with words that they
associated with pride. They found that either people link pride
to such achievement-oriented ideas as accomplishment and confidence
(authentic pride) or, people connect pride to self-aggrandizement,
arrogance and conceit (hubristic pride).
People who tend to feel authentic pride were more likely to score
high on extraversion, agreeableness, genuine self-esteem and conscientiousness.
However, those who tend to feel hubristic pride were narcissistic
and prone to shame. Further, they found that people who felt positive,
achievement-oriented feelings of pride viewed hard work as the
key to success in life, whereas hubristic people tended to view
success as predetermined, due to their stable abilities.
Tracy and Robins argue that the primitive precursors of pride
probably motivated our ancestors to act in altruistic and communitarian
ways, for the good of the tribe, and the physical display of pride
both reinforced such behavior and signaled to the group that this
person was worthy of respect. So individual pride, at least the
good kind, contributed in important ways to the survival of the
But what about pride's dark side" Tracy and Robins speculate
that hubris might have been a social "short cut," a
way of tricking others into paying respect when it was not warranted.
Those who could not earn respect the old-fashioned way figured
out how to look and act accomplished in order to gain status.
Social cheaters puffed themselves up because deep down they did
not have what it took to succeed in their world. Whatever respect
they got would have been fleeting, of course, as it is today.