Pride: A turbo-charge for motivation or a social nemesis?
by Mary Lamia, Ph.D.
(Originally published at PsychologyToday.com)
You may not consider emotions as a source of motivation or a fuel that helps you to attain a goal. Yet a primary purpose of emotions is to activate, direct, and motivate your efforts toward achieving objectives. Thus, emotions drive action and they are a major ally in goal directedness and accomplishment. Certainly, this is the case for the emotion of pride.
Pride ignites a positive appraisal of the self that can create feelings of optimism and worthiness. The expression of pride informs others of your value, and you can likely imagine the difference in facial expression and posture when pride is felt in contrast to an emotion such as shame. In social situations, pride alerts others to your confidence and importance, and perhaps even more so when a prideful expression is coupled with captivating humility.
Unlike self-esteem, which has more to do with a general attitude about one’s own worth, pride is triggered in response to a specific accomplishment, an achievement, an event, or a measure of performance. Such temporary bursts of positive emotion can powerfully influence us, as David Brooks (2011) has pointed out in a recent New York Times opinion piece. As a result, experiencing pride because of a success can lead you to imagine further and even larger achievements (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2001). Motivation to persevere in your attempts to achieve a long-term goal, or to sustain effort in a negative situation, can be aided by experiences that trigger the emotion of pride (Williams & DeSteno, 2008).
Given its involvement in self-evaluation and in the relationships you have with others, pride is considered a self-conscious and social emotion along with embarrassment, guilt, and shame. But where pride has a positive valence, embarrassment, guilt, and shame are associated with the evocation of painful feelings (see previous PT blogs on “Shame: A Concealed, Contagious, and Dangerous Emotion” and “Whatever Happened to Guilt?“).
Yet these self-conscious emotions can interact, such as when you experience embarrassment, shame, or guilt in response to pride. For example, although you may gear your efforts toward accomplishments that will trigger pride, experiencing the emotion may subsequently trigger shame about your desire for recognition, guilt about leaving others behind, or embarrassment when others acknowledge your achievement. On the other hand, the emotion of pride can be triggered simply from refraining from an activity that will otherwise trigger shame or guilt.
While pride in an achievement can instill you with confidence, it can potentially create an attitude that is overly confident. But is such overconfidence necessarily maladaptive? Actually, being overconfident can be highly adaptive or, perhaps, even profitable. Although overconfidence can, at times, lead to flawed assessments, idealistic expectations, and risky decisions, it can encourage you to compete, rather than retreat, in situations where you are capable of winning; and it has positive effects on ambition, credibility, and morale (Johnson & Fowler, 2011). Being confident, or even overly confident, allows you to be in the game. Situations that potentially may lead to failure or defeat are sometimes perceived as far too risky. Yet not playing the game unless you’re going to win may be overprotecting your general sense of pride.
Overconfidence is considered to be the best strategy when there is uncertainty about the strength of an opponent and the outcome, and where the costs incurred are less than the value of competing or fighting for the resource (Johnson and Fowler, 2011). In evolutionary terms, fighting for and subsequently winning a desirable mate may be worth the risk of sustaining a serious injury. But this also can apply more broadly to the use of deception in business, such as when the potential consequences that may result from false marketing or advertising are seen as worth the value of securing consumers. Such overconfidence that weighs the costs incurred in competing as less than the value of the resource often disregards risk to others. In this case, even though such risk can result in consumer disappointment, anger, or lawsuits, these are likely seen as less expensive then losing the competitive venture.
Pride doesn’t make you self-centered, but it can characterize narcissism. Hubristic pride, which represents a more global and overly self-confident attitude, can be a result of the narcissistic cognition that who you are translates to being precious or highly valued. Since the evolutionary purpose of self-conscious and social emotions has to do with functioning within a group, pride indicates status to others and its expression can raise social standing. However, where pride can motivate behaviors that are geared toward the attainment of status, hubris falsely promotes it and may have evolved as an attempt to convince others of success even when it is unwarranted (Tracy & Robbins, 2007). Likely you are aware of people who have falsely acquired social standing with self-confidence that lacks a portfolio. Nevertheless, spurious pride is convincing and alluring whether it’s an attribute of an adolescent who uses it to extort popularity or a trait of a narcissistic leader.
For more information about Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings: http://www.marylamia.com
Brooks, D. (2011, September 30). The Limits of Empathy. The New York Times, p. A25.
Fredrickson, B. L., & Branigan, C. (2001). Positive emotions. In T. J. Mayne & G. A. Bonanno (Eds.), Emotions: Current issues and future directions (pp. 123–151), New York: Guilford Press.
Johnson D. & Fowler, J. (2011). The evolution of overconfidence. Nature, 477, 317–320.
Tracy, J. and Robbins, R. (2007). Emerging insights into the nature and function of pride. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(3), 147-150.
Williams, L. and DeSteno, D. Pride and Perseverance: The Motivational Role of Pride. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(6), 1007–1017
# # #
Please visit http://www.marincountypsych.org for more information about our association and membership benefits or to locate a licensed clinical psychologist in Marin County.
# # #
The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Marin County Psychological Association. The information posted on this blog is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional mental health services.