The Psychology of Boasting: Crazy Things People Brag About
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The Psychology of Boasting: Crazy Things People Brag About

A look at the psychology of human behaviour: some peculiar things people brag about.

Human psychology is undoubtedly one of the most difficult subjects to study and produce concrete evidence with sufficient, reliable data when conducting such research. So much of the information gleaned is subjective, and dependant solely on information gathered from test subjects' responses. Why do people react in certain ways? What drives one person to become anti-social under the same conditions that another will behave completely different? What is the root of a mental disorder? These are all questions that have been scrutinized for decades - even centuries - and given a plethora of answers, some of which can be documented with physiological data, and others which rely heavily on logical speculation. Human behaviour, and the reasons for that behaviour, will continue to be somewhat of a mystery, regardless of all the theories behind the “answers.”

Take, for example, the subject of boasting. People have been bragging, no doubt, since the socialization of man (imagine. . . Hey dude, look at my awesome fire - it's so much bigger than yours). Why?  Is it mere competitive behaviour?  Or insecurities?  Narcissism?  Hubristic tendencies?  Neglect or abuse?  Or just simply human nature? We have all done it, to some degree or another. Remember this stereotypical playground banter? My daddy's bigger than your daddy, or, My mommy's prettier than yours. This is fairly typical, and developmentally normal, childhood behaviour. Even as adults, when we achieve something outstanding or our children and grandchildren are especially bright and beautiful, it's normal to want to share this with others. Is that really bragging, or just having a sense of pride?

The line between healthy pride and excessive boastfulness may be very fine, and difficult to pinpoint.  Mostly, it's not just what is said, but the manner in which it is said and the individual's tiring repetition and elaboration, which delineates a typical conversation from that of monopolizing boastfulness. But one thing is for sure: we know when we have had enough of someone's incessant bragging, and their inability (or unwillingness) to take subtle hints, or even outright requests, to “put a sock in it.”

Recently, I have made a mental note in my daily encounters with people (including, I must admit, a little eaves-dropping) of the things some people brag about. Sometimes, the topic of their boastfulness makes some sense (e.g. going on about how clever their 3 year old is - totally understandable, even if it can get tiresome).  Other times, I'm just amused at peoples’ remarks and have to shake my head. If nothing else, the crazy things some people boast about are great fodder for amusement. Following is a list of a few of these things which I have found people are especially prone to boasting about. . . sometimes strange and crazy, but true.

  • How extraordinary their peripheral vision is.
  • How well they can see without their (in their opinion, totally unnecessary) prescription glasses.
  • How much food they can eat at a buffet.
  • How much pain they can endure.
  • How sick they are.
  • How much sicker they are than you are (the one-up-manship mindset). There is a great movie line that illustrates this perfectly. In the rather obscure film Shirley Valentine (an hilarious comedy/drama which tells of the wacky adventures of a middle-aged British woman), Shirley is describing her uptight, rich neighbour and laments "she is the type who, if you've got a headache, she has a brain tumour!"
  • How many scars they have. (And you're sure to be shown all of them. . . ALLLLL of them.)
  • How many screws, pins, and metal plates are now holding together their leg, or back, or head...
  • How many medications they are taking. . . and yet nothing seems to be working.
  • How long/horrific their labour was preceding childbirth. (You'll know more details than the doctor.)
  • How loudly they can expel gas from various body orifices. . . accompanied by a demonstration.
  • The very large donation they made to a charitable foundation.
  • The very large donation they made to the porcelain water-filled bowl.
  • How long they can go without showering or bathing.
  • How long they can go without sleeping, or how little sleep they regularly get.
  • How many pots of coffee they've already consumed that day. . . and how it doesn't affect them one bit.
  • What an exceptional sense of direction they have. ("I can go to a new city and never have to use a map.")
  • How much money they just spent on a jacket, or handbag, or marble countertop, or on vacation, or a diamond ring, or, or, or. . .
  • How little money they spent on something.  Actually, this one makes more sense than the previous entry.  (I personally would rather be proud of being a thrifty shopper than of being a spendthrift.)
  • How they just cheated on their taxes.
  • How they just cheated on their partner.
  • How amazing their partner is in bed. Really, do you need to share that. . . in lengthy detail? (Boundaries, people. Can you say boundaries?)
  • And, how well they can keep a secret (while they're in the middle of telling you something that probably should be kept a secret. . . or you wish they would have kept a secret.)

I suppose what prompts certain human behaviour may never be truly understood, although each generation produces enough psychologists and psychiatrists that we really should have this figured out by now. Suffice it to say that while the human race is still human - as opposed to some science-fiction form of mass-produced, programmable robots - all the theories in the world can never fit or describe every person, in every circumstance. Even if someone could find concrete answers to questions like these, well. . . that would be just one more thing to brag about.


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Comments (29)

(Note: I actually did proof read this before submitting it. For some reason, now, a few of the words have been run together...not sure how that happened:(

There is a post in the writers forum about the run-on words. Some kind of glitch. Good article though. I know someone who brags about everything. Its really annoying.

Ranked #9 in General Psychology

I remember reading that Bragging is linked to a basic lack of confidence and inferiority complex among individuals...Great informative article :)

Yes, I believe it is, and ties in with the need for attention. Thanks for the comment :)

It happened to me as well Sharla. I checked my manuscript and found the spaces right but merged when published but can't do anything because I'm not on the level to re edit. This is an interesting topic, I suppose everybody brags about anything. Im often a victim myself without intent. Well, considering it's not too much.

Modesty keeps people from bragging. In the Middle East people avoid bragging as they think it brings on the "evil eye", in other words people will get envious and start treating you badly!

Thank you deepblue for your comments. Its too bad we can't get the typos fixed in our'll be a bit before I reach the Staff Writer level also. (Cest la vie...). Thank you also Petal for commenting. As for modesty, it keeps people from a whole lot 'o trouble!!

Amazing to see to what length people will go to brag -- about non entities!

Shastri, it really is amazing...and what's more amazing, is these comments come from people of all backgrounds and education. Thanks for reading.

Fascinating account. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks Michael! :) (I was finally able to change the run-on errors in my article, so now it is easier to read)

This is an amusing read and very well written. I'm amused by all the things others do brag about and your list is accurate and does get annoying to the ears at times. As psychology is not an exact or absolute science, it clearly gives us some indication of typical behaviours as listed in your article. Enjoyable read and write.

Thank you for your kind comments, Richard.

Isn't this the number one American pastime? *Ducks flying objects and hides under the bed* It's funny how we Europeans treat boasting with contempt whilst some countries and cultures actively encourage it. Every single country has their very own share of boasters though... and it usually stems from inadequacy and insecurity. Fantastic article, but then yours always are!

Glad you enjoyed this, Ann. You are so generous, thank you. I have really enjoyed reading everyone's experiences and comments.

This is outstanding work as usual, Sharla.

I just now noticed your comment, Martin. Thank you for your generous compliment, and for taking the time to read my article.

Unfortunately this is very common in Italy, (more than G.B.). Out of votes, so promoted.

Thank you, Jill. I always appreciate your input. I think boasting must be a global ocurrance, due to simple human nature.

This is priceless, should be sold to a comedian for their routine!!! Voted up!!! Love the one about cheating on their taxes, as I used to work for the treasury department and saw first hand how people cheated!!!

I would be flattered to have a comedian use my work - thanks for the compliment! I usually find the most humour and amusement in everyday, real moments, such as observing people. Thanks for reading, Diane.

I have bragged about all of those in the list! Lol

Too funny, Lindbergh! At least you're honest about it! Thanks for reading my article.

I think our competitive nature is what brought Darwin to the theory of survival of the fittest. However, I don't think that is where we are supposed to be as human beings. Though Darwin theorized that evolution takes place according to this theory, I contend that evolution requires us to make changes to our nature so that collectively we can evolve to a spiritually higher being. One of the changes to our nature that I believe is required is our tendency to compete. We are not defined as individuals based on the various competitions that we may win and we may lose in. All the examples above goes to show us how desperate we are to win at something.

I had this question on the top of my mind. Searched it in google, and led me to pick this article. Mad me smile. Plus now I have more insight. Thank you.

Heather, I'm glad you found my article in google and that it gave you some insight. . . and a smile, too! Thanks so much for reading!

Shayna, I missed your comments when you originally posted; thanks for reading. I would have to agree that people are innately competitive - some more so than others - and it's only logical to extrapolate this to include boasting. I suppose it could also be said that boasting is a form of winning; winning makes us feel good; ergo we boast to feel good.

i know  a person who brags about his intelligence and how all others he meets at work are not worth anything. One thing I noticed is when he is drunk, he seems to be angry and frustrated. Makes me feel he is a very insecure person deep within.

Peter, I appreciate your insightful comment.  I agree that the person you describe is likely masking his insecurities with his boastful bravado.