The Psychology of Boasting: Crazy Things People Brag About

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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, or  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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