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Purpose behind the emotion of pride

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Among all emotions, pride may be the most important emotion that we have in motivating us for engaging in social behavior (Tracy & Robins, 2007). Whenever we achieve something meaningful, it is followed by emotions of pride. Having a wounded pride can lead to disastrous consequences; from small scale problems like losing a friend to large scale problems like terrorism.

Anger, disgust, happiness, fear, sadness, and surprise have been discovered as universal emotions that exist in all known cultures, both in their verbal and nonverbal form (Ekman & Friesen, 1971). A lot of research has focused on exploring these basic emotions in favor of more self conscious emotions like pride. Although a complex emotion, more recent research appears to suggest that pride might be another universal human emotion. One of the strongest evidence in favor of this claim comes from the finding that even individuals from an isolated preliterate tribe in Burkina Faso, West Africa, can recognize various pride expressions (Tracy & Robins, 2007).

Pride is not a singular emotion. In fact, there appears to be two different kinds of pride: authentic and hubristic. These two facets of pride were recognized even by ancient Greeks as they condemned excessive pride by calling it hubris. While authentic pride makes a person achievement oriented, the hubristic pride is associated with narcissism and contributes to hostility and interpersonal problems.

Well, why do we have pride? This question is easier to answer by looking at what functions do basic emotions serve. Basic emotions are there to promote our survival and reproductive goals. More complex emotions like pride exist to assist us in meeting social goals that are indirectly related to our survival and reproductive goals. Feeling pride provides us with feedback on what our current social status and acceptance level is. “I am feeling proud; I must have done something to make people respect me”.

The emotion of pride functions as a reinforcer in encouraging socially valued behaviors. We all know cognitively that it is a good thing to help other in need. But often it takes presence of an emotion like pride to make us act altruistically, and that in turn leads to rewards like higher social status and acceptance (Hardy & Van Vugt, 2006). Research has shown that experiencing pride in performing altruistic activities leads to more time spent volunteering (Hart & Matsuba, 2007).

Pride may also be related to development of self-esteem. Children begin to develop a sense of pride by 2.5 years, can recognize pride by the age of 4, and fully understand it between ages of 7 and 9 (Lagattuta & Thompson, 2007).

If pride is associated with positive social activities, why do we have hubristic pride? One reason may be that hubristic pride is about engaging in activities that lead to short term benefits while authentic pride is about long term status gains. Another may be that hubristic pride is a cheat system present to convince others of one’s high social value when in fact no action has been undertaken to achieve a high level.

A more interesting fact about the emotion of pride is that so far only humans and possibly some great apes have been discovered as animals that experience pride. This may be the case because the emotion of pride may require a sense of self-awareness as a prerequisite. It is possible that exploring the emotion of pride would help us in addressing the long standing question of how the sense of self came into existence.


Ekman, P., & Friesen, W.V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17, 124-129.

Hardy, C.L., & Van Vugt, M. (2006). Nice guys finish first: The competitive altruism hypothesis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1402-1413.

Hart, D., & Matsuba, M.K. (2007). The development of pride in moral life. In J.L. Tracy, R.W. Robins, & J.P. Tangney (Eds.), The self conscious emotions: Theory and research (pp. 114-133). New York: Guilford.

Lagattuta, K.H., & Thompson, R.A. (2007). The development of self-conscious emotions: Cognitive processes and social influences. In J.L. Tracy, R.W. Robins, & J.P. Tangney (Eds.), The self conscious emotions: Theory and research (pp. 114-133). New York: Guilford.

Tracy, J.L, & Robins, R.W. (2007). Emerging insights into the nature and function of pride. Current Directions of Psychological Science, 16, 147-150

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