We all know someone who is like this: a person who won’t stop talking about how awesome he/she is at playing basketball (but in reality he/she is benched in every game, more often than not). Or how great he/she is at singing and how they have a high vocal range and sing high notes (but in reality is really out of tune).
So why do some people talk themselves up way too much? If you’ve ever wondered that, here’s the reason – it’s a psychological phenomenon called symbolic self-completion, It’s when a person makes up for some parts of his/her identity, in a symbolic way.
The information comes from a research conducted in the ’80s. Two researchers at the University of Austin (Robert A. Wicklund and Peter M. Gollwitzer) lead a series of experiments about self-completion theory in the early ’80s. They wanted to find out how a person’s security about his/her identity affected how much that person felt the need to influence others in that area.
First, they asked the participants of the study to identify an activity or topic in which they had “special competence”. They were also asked to write how many years of training they had and how recently they had performed it. Then, the participants wrote an essay about the said activity. The essays were shown to various groups of students. The participant with the least experience wanted the most number of students to read his/her essay.
In yet another experiment in the same study, participants who are more experienced were found to be the ones who were more self-deprecating. These people felt comfortable saying negative things about themselves. Another study, paper is published in 1982 by Gollwitzer, Wicklund, and Hilton, supported this finding. The researchers asked the participants to write positive descriptions of their selves. Some were interrupted while doing so, therefore they were unable to let people know how great they are. After this, they were asked to write mistakes that they had made in their area of expertise. Those who weren’t interrupted while writing listed fewer mistakes. This suggests that people who felt “incomplete” in their identity, didn’t feel comfortable admitting anything negative about their identity.
Nowadays, social media makes it a lot easier for people to show their lives in public. As indicated by the symbolic self-completion theory, sometimes regular announcements of someone’s life being awesome disguises deeper insecurity.
So the next time you come across someone who brags just a bit too much, you will know why they do this.
What do you make of symbolic self-completion? Have you come across people who brag a lot?
Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.