The Nature of Pride

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jessica Tracy

Assistant Professor of Psychology
University of British Columbia, CN

One of the major results in the behavioral and social sciences is the discovery that a small set of emotions have distinct, universally recognized, nonverbal expressions. This finding promoted widespread acceptance of Darwin’s (1872) claim that emotions are an evolved part of human nature, but also diverted attention away from emotions assumed to lack universal expressions, such as the unique class of “self-conscious” emotions. However, recent research suggests that at least one self-conscious emotion—pride—may fit within the Darwinian framework. I will discuss findings from a series of empirical studies demonstrating that pride has a distinct nonverbal expression which is reliably and cross-culturally recognized, and spontaneously displayed in response to success by sighted and blind individuals across cultures. These findings suggest that the pride expression may be an innate behavioral response to success, which likely evolved to serve a fundamental social function—signaling an individual’s potential deservingness of increased social status. I will also discuss research on the psychological structure of pride, demonstrating that there are two distinct pride facets, which map onto a long-held theoretical distinction between “authentic” and “hubristic” pride. Consistent with the status-enhancing, functionalist account of pride, other findings demonstrate that each facet is uniquely associated with a distinct status-attainment strategy (i.e., “dominance” vs. “prestige”). Overall, research from my lab suggests that pride is a complex emotion, closely linked to self-esteem, narcissism, achievement, and status, and may be an evolved part of human nature.

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