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Pride: Not Always A Bad Thing

Although pride is often regarded as a negative emotion, primarily in Western cultures, it may have served as an important purpose in the evolution of our ancestors. And pride also appears to extend across non-Western cultures as well.

Those conclusions come from a group of researchers at UC Santa Barbara’s Center for Evolutionary Psychology (CEP). The study, which covers 16 countries and four continents, was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The function of pride is to motivate the individual to cultivate traits and pick courses of action that increase others’ tendency to value them,” said lead author Daniel Sznycer, a CEP research scientist at UCSB and a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University. “Natural selection would have crafted a neural program — pride — that makes you care about how much others value you, and motivates you to achieve and advertise socially valued things.”

The authors refer to this theory — which brings together the views of several evolutionary researchers — as “the advertisement–recalibration theory of pride.”

“Our ancestors lived close to the edge, and depended in their daily life on acts of kindness by their fellow band members — kindness that was increased the more they valued you,” explained Leda Cosmides, a professor of psychology at UCSB, co-director of the CEP, and a co-author of the paper.

John Tooby, a professor of anthropology at UCSB, co-director of the CEP, and also a co-author of the paper added: “The pride system is designed to give others some vote in what behavior you end up choosing, so that they have an ongoing stake in your welfare. This predicts not only that people should have a detailed map of what members of their community value socially, but that the intensity of pride someone feels in achieving some specific outcome should closely match the degree to which others would value that specific achievement. This helps you determine which value-promoting acts are worth the effort.”

To test the prediction that anticipated pride at taking an action matches the community’s valuation of that action, the researchers created 25 brief fictional scenarios depicting behaviors or traits that were expected, on evolutionary grounds, to lead to valuation from others. Among them are possessing skills, being trustworthy, being generous and being physically attractive. They ran these scenarios on 2,085 participants in 16 countries on four 4 continents. One group of participants was asked to report, for each scenario, how positively they would view another person if those things were true of that person. A different group of participants was asked how much pride they would feel if those things were true of themselves.