When I see the word pride, I often think of a pride of lions. I then go to Jane Austen's book Pride and Prejudice, where pride was mis-interpreted. I think it is connected in our minds with self-esteem and confidence, and yet, there is this negative tinge. Here is a way to look at it. I think this study relates to how we prod and reward students in school, and people in jobs.
When All You Have Left Is Your Pride
Look around you. On the train platform, at the bus stop, in the car pool lane: these days someone there is probably faking it, maintaining a job routine without having a job to go to.
The Wall Street type in suspenders, with his bulging briefcase; the woman in pearls, thumbing her BlackBerry; the builder in his work boots and tool belt — they could all be headed for the same coffee shop, or bar, for the day.
“I have a new client, a laid-off lawyer, who’s commuting in every day — to his Starbucks,” said Robert C. Chope, a professor of counseling at San Francisco State University and president of the employment division of the American Counseling Association. “He gets dressed up, meets with colleagues, networks; he calls it his Western White House. I have encouraged him to keep his routine.”
To the extent that it sustains good habits and reflects personal pride, they say, this kind of play-acting can be an extremely effective social strategy, especially in uncertain times.
“If showing pride in these kinds of situations was always maladaptive, then why would people do it so often?” said David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston. “But people do, of course, and we are finding that pride is centrally important not just for surviving physical danger but for thriving in difficult social circumstances, in ways that are not at all obvious.”
For most of its existence, the field of psychology ignored pride as a fundamental social emotion. It was thought to be too marginal, too individually variable, compared with basic visceral expressions of fear, disgust, sadness or joy. Moreover, it can mean different things in different cultures.
But recent research by Jessica L. Tracy of the University of British Columbia and Richard W. Robins of the University of California, Davis, has shown that the expressions associated with pride in Western society — most commonly a slight smile and head tilt, with hands on the hips or raised high — are nearly identical across cultures. Children first experience pride about age 2 ½, studies suggest, and recognize it by age 4.
It’s not a simple matter of imitation, either. In a 2008 study, Dr. Tracy and David Matsumoto, a psychologist at San Francisco State, analyzed spontaneous responses to winning or losing a judo match during the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic games. They found that expressions of pride after a victory were similar for athletes from 37 nations, including for 53 blind competitors, many of them blind from birth.
“It’s a self-conscious emotion, reflecting how you feel about yourself, and it has this important social component,” Dr. Tracy said. “It’s the strongest status signal we know of among the emotions; stronger than a happy expression, contentment, anything.”
In one continuing experiment, Dr. Tracy, along with Azim Shariff, a doctoral student at British Columbia, have found that people tend to associate an expression of pride with high status — even when they know that the person wearing it is low on the ladder. In their study, participants impulsively assigned higher status to a prideful water boy than to a team captain who looked ashamed.
The implications of this are hard to exaggerate. Researchers tend to split pride into at least two broad categories. So-called authentic pride flows from real accomplishments, like raising a difficult child, starting a company or rebuilding an engine. Hubristic pride, as Dr. Tracy calls it, is closer to arrogance or narcissism, pride without substantial foundation. The act of putting on a good face may draw on elements of both.
But no one can tell the difference from the outside. Expressions of pride, whatever their source, look the same. “So as long as you’re a decent actor, and people don’t know too much about your situation, all systems are go,” said Lisa A. Williams, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Northeastern University.
The various flavors of pride may even feel similar on the inside, when the stakes are high enough. “She was always scrupulous about keeping up appearances to herself,” wrote Edith Wharton of her tragic heroine Lily Bart in “The House of Mirth.” “Her personal fastidiousness had a moral equivalent, and when she made a tour of inspection in her own mind there were certain closed doors she did not open.” If you believe it, so will they.
A feeling of pride, when it’s convincing, acts something like an emotional magnet. In a recent study, Ms. Williams and Dr. DeSteno of Northeastern had a group of 62 undergraduates take tests supposedly measuring their spatial I.Q. The patterns flashed by too fast for anyone to truly know how well they did.
The researchers manipulated the amount of pride each participant felt in his or her score. They either said nothing about the score; remarked, in a matter-of-fact tone, that it was one of the best scores they had seen; or gushed that the person’s performance was wonderful, about as good as they had ever seen.
The participants then sat down in a group to solve similar puzzles. Sure enough, the students who had been warmly encouraged reported feeling more pride than the others. But they also struck their partners in the group exercise as being both more dominant and more likable than those who did not have the inner glow of self-approval. The participants, whether they had been buttered up or not, were completely unaware of this effect on the group dynamics.
“We wondered at the beginning whether these people were going to come across as arrogant jerks,” Dr. DeSteno said. “Well, no, just the opposite; they were seen as dominant but also likable. That’s not a combination we expected.”
Therapists say that in time, people usually do better when they come clean. “In some ways it’s easier to do this now, with so many people out of work,” said Michael C. Lazarchick, an employment counselor in southern New Jersey. “You may very well find out that others are going through the same thing, or something like it — ‘Oh yeah, I just took a big cut in pay.’ ”
But in the short term, projecting pride may do more than help manage others’ impressions. Psychologists have found that wearing a sad or happy face can have a top-down effect on how a person feels: Smile and you may feel fleetingly happier. The same most likely is true for an expression of pride. In a 2008 study, the Northeastern researchers found that inducing a feeling of pride in people solving spatial puzzles motivated them to try harder when they tackled the next round.
Pride, in short, begets perseverance. All of which may explain why, when the repo man is at the door, people so often remind themselves that they still have theirs, and that it’s worth something. Because they do, and because it is.However much pride may go before a fall, it may be far more useful after one.