Across five studies, the researchers studied brags, complaints, and humblebrags on social media and in job-interview scenarios and evaluated how people reacted to each statement. In short, people respected complaints, tolerated brags, and disdained their intermixing. “The proliferation of humblebragging in social media and everyday life suggests that people believe it an effective self-promotional strategy,” they concluded. “Yet, our results show, people readily denigrate humblebraggers. Faced with the choice to (honestly) brag or (deceptively) humblebrag, would-be self-promoters should choose the former.” Interestingly, Norton added by email, there was no revealed difference between genders, even though other research has shown that aggressiveness and directness can be perceived differently when it comes from men or women.
There is a social cost to being too obvious. In general, being roundabout is just good manners. Young children are discouraged from beginning sentences with verbs (“Give me”) and over time learn that preambles are polite (“If it’s not too much trouble, and totally at your leisure, would you maybe take the time to give me …”). But humblebrags are particularly nauseating because they ooze insincerity, Norton said, which is considered even more worse than straightforward narcissism.
The surest way to bask in the glow of other people’s awe, he said, is to have somebody brag for you — particularly in a way that makes you seem perfectly innocent of all praise.