Nonverbal Expression Of Pride Elicits Copying Response From Others
Christopher Philip

Pride Expression 1In new Researcher by Jason Martens and Jessica L. Tracy, University of British Columbia, Canada, it was found that the nonverbal expression of pride by a confederate led others to copy their answers more often than when they displayed other expressions.

Humans, say the researchers, learn a great deal by copying others. “Indeed, from early childhood, humans are systematically selective copiers, acquiring a vast array of essential skills by copying conspecifics they know to be more knowledgeable than themselves.”

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However, as they clarify, others can be deceitful, incompetent or lack knowledge.

Thus they wonder, how exactly does a person decide which people they will trust and which they will ignore?

The researchers note that the pride display functions to show two things, knowledge and respect, but also dominance, which is a power-based on threat, but also intimidation.

In their paper published in Social Psychological and Personality Science they argue that the nonverbal expression of pride is an evolutionary trait signaling that one’s knowledge and skill is worth copying.

In the first study, random subjects were approached and presented a question. They were offered entry into a draw for $50 for answering correctly. After being presented with the question, they were also shown an image of what they were told was another participant to the study alongside their answer. In the image, the person held an incorrect answer displaying either a neutral posture, happy posture or pride posture (see images below).

The results showed that when subjects were faced with a situation where they were motivated to gain knowledge, that they tended to use the help offered by those displaying pride rather than those displaying happiness or no emotion at all.

However, the researchers wished to dig deeper because they figured that the results may be confounded with other factors such as the desire to conform to social norms. That is, they wanted to make sure that the subjects weren’t simply copying answers for the sake of ‘fitting in’ with the person in the image.

The second study was meant to test the effects of conformity by eliminating the cash incentive for offering a correct response. In other words, by eliminating the incentive to be correct, the researchers predicted that people wouldn’t be as likely to offer a correct answer and therefore would be less likely to be influenced by the image displaying pride.

This is exactly what was found. In the first study, 76% copied the display of pride, whereas only 39% of those in the second study did so. Therefore, when no incentive to be correct was offered, people did not overwhelmingly seek the pride-cue as a guide to their response.

The third study was more or less the same as the first two studies except that the confederates where displayed answering questions in video form rather than in a still image. The video consisted of a same-sex confederate – men were presented with a male confederate and women were presented with a female confederate – again in various postural displays.

The subjects were also offered $50 for correct answers and were required to present the answer to their question immediately after they saw the video (within 2 seconds) to prevent conscious deliberation.

In each video (click here for sample), the confederate answered incorrectly and held either a pride-display, shame display, neutral display, or happy display.

The pride-display was done by expanding the chest, holding the head up slightly, smiling slightly, holding one or both arms akimbo (hands on hips), and standing upright.

Shame was displayed with slumped shoulders, lowered heads, and no smile.

Neutral confederates stood relaxed, did not raise or lower their heads and did not smile or frown.

Happy-displaying confederates smiled and had an overall happy affect.

The results of this experiment found that the pride display video produced a copy rate from subjects at around 80% whereas happy was copied at only 50%, shame around 30% and neutral just under 30%.

Discussion Of The Findings

As the researchers correctly point out, humans tend to learn in large part by copying knowledgeable others. However, because others can be “deceitful or lack competence, indiscriminate copying would be maladaptive.”

The results showed that when there was an incentive to produce correct answers, the pride-display produced more copying than when other expressions were used. This suggests that pride expressions bias social learning.

The researchers suggest that pride displays may have an adaptive function. Growing evidence is mounting that shows that the pride displays help communicate an individual’s deservedness of higher status. With it, often comes greater access to things such as wealth, food, resources and mates. There is also evidence suggesting that pride is universally recognized (evidence for the universal expression of pride). Also, pride as a reliable nonverbal cue, is adaptive as it permits the attainment of greater social influence over others.

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There is also an adaptive function to others who read the cue correctly as they can quickly assess who is most deserving of respect, and as shown in the research, those who have skills that should be followed and sought for reliable information and knowledge over those who do not.

On the other hand, should signaling of pride be falsified over evolutionary history, then the nonverbal expression of pride would decline in frequency and not be trusted. The fact that it was not guaranteed to predict choices indicates that people are selective with their trust in the display, but that they did rely on it to a degree over other postures, shows that it does, indeed, have some merit as a reliable cue to those reading it. People do rely on the nonverbal cue as a signal of knowledge, even though, it is, at times, faulty.

The Take-Away Message

As a method of influence, the nonverbal expression of pride is obvious. By puffing out the chest, with arms akimbo, chin stretched outwards, one can show others how confident and assertion is held. A feigned expression of pride would likely be a successful tactic in influencing others rather than adopting any other posture.

It seems as though pride is a cue which has had evolutionarily predictive value and has been used honestly in the past such that today it deserves to be heeded and trusted when seen. This makes the expression of pride a possible method of faking prestige, power, and eliciting trust as well as claiming leadership in light others.


Pride Expression 3

Pride Expression 4

Pride Expression 1

Pride Expression 2


Happiness Expression 3

Happiness Expression 4

Happiness Expression 1

Happiness Expression 2


Shame Expression 1

Shame Expression 2

Shame Expression 3


Neutral Expression 2

Neutral Expression 3

Neutral Expression 4

Neutral Expression 1


Embarassment Expression 2

Embarassment Expression 3

Embarassment Expression 4

Embarassment Expression 1

Surprise Expression 2

Surprise Expression 3

Surprise Expression 4

Surprise Expression 1


Sadness Expression 2

Sadness Expression 3

Sadness Expression 4

Sadness Expression 1


Fear Expression 2

Fear Expression 3

Fear Expression 4

Fear Expression 1


Anger Expression 1

Anger Expression 4

Anger Expression 3

Anger Expression 2


Disgust Expression 2

Disgust Expression 3

Disgust Expression 4

Disgust Expression 1

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Jason P. Martens and Jessica L. Tracy. The Emotional Origins of a Social Learning Bias: Does the Pride Expression Cue Copying? Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2012; 4(4): 492-499.

Images Courtesy Of UC Davis Set Of Emotion Expressions (UCDSEE): This new set of emotion expressions includes jpegs of anger, embarrassment, fear, disgust, happiness, pride, sadness, shame, and surprise expressions. All basic emotion expressions (including contempt) were FACS-verified by Erika Rosenberg, a leading expert in FACS, and all self-conscious emotion expressions were verified by Dr. Rosenberg to include only those facial muscle movements described as relevant to each expression by Tracy & Robins (Psych Science, 2004) for pride, and by Heerey et al. (Emotion, 2003) for embarrassment and shame. The set includes 4 targets: 2 females (1 Caucasian American, 1 African) and 2 males (1 Caucasian American, 1 African). Researchers interested in using the set can download or copy jpegs below, free of charge; please just cite the set with the appropriate reference.


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