The Nature of Pride
Jessica L. Tracy
University of British Columbia

One of the major findings in the behavioral and social sciences is the discovery that a small set of “basic” emotions have distinct, universally recognized, nonverbal expressions. This finding promoted widespread acceptance of Darwin’s (1872) claim that emotions are an evolved part of human nature, but also diverted attention away from emotions assumed to lack universal expressions, such as the unique class of “self-conscious” emotions. However, recent research suggests that at least one self-conscious emotion—pride—may fit within the Darwinian framework.

I will present a series of studies demonstrating that pride has a distinct nonverbal expression which is reliably and cross-culturally recognized by adults and children, through an automatic cognitive process. Furthermore, the recognizable pride expression is spontaneously displayed in response to success, by sighted and blind individuals across cultures. These findings suggest that the pride expression is likely to be an innate behavioral response to success, which may have evolved to serve a fundamental social function. In fact, new research suggests that the pride expression may function as a status signal, sending a message that is distinct from other positive and negative emotions, implicitly perceived, and powerful enough to override contradictory contextual information.

Other research on the psychological structure of pride supports this functionalist account. Analyses of the semantic meaning of pride, the dispositional tendency to experience pride, and actual pride experiences suggest that there are two distinct pride facets, consistent with the theoretical distinction between “authentic” and “hubristic” pride. These findings help explain how the experience of pride may serve a complementary adaptive function to its expression. Specifically, each facet of pride is linked to a distinct status-attainment and maintenance strategy (i.e., “dominance” vs. “prestige”), suggesting that the two facets may have evolved separately to motivate the divergent behaviors needed to attain each kind of status. Overall, research from my lab suggests that pride is a complex emotion that is closely linked to self-esteem, narcissism, achievement, and status, and may be an evolved—and certainly a fundamental—part of human nature.