DUBNER: If I’d gotten my hand on one of those peacocks, I would’ve pulled out a fistful of feathers just to teach them a lesson.
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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.
DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: What type of pride is good for you, and what type is bad?
DUBNER: I was imagining like, salty and sweet pride.
DUCKWORTH: That’s popcorn.
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DUBNER: So Angie, today we are discussing the seventh of the seven deadly sins. Do you remember which one we haven’t discussed yet?
DUCKWORTH: By process of elimination — Pride, Stephen.
DUBNER: Very good. Pride.
DUCKWORTH: I’m proud of myself for remembering that.
DUBNER: I am proud of you too, for remembering. So my question for you, Angie, is this: Why is pride, in the modern reckoning, even considered a sin? I could see that in ancient times, the Catholic church, which was the keeper of the deadly sins, didn’t want anyone, maybe outside of a king or queen, to think that they were better than anyone else, lest they start thinking that maybe God wasn’t so important or powerful. And I know that the seven deadly sins were especially directed at the clergy.
DUCKWORTH: Is that right? So, when they say, “pride cometh before the fall” — I don’t know. That doesn’t sound like it comes from the Bible.
DUBNER: That is from the Bible. That’s from Proverbs. It’s actually usually misquoted. It actually goes, “pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” So that kind of got condensed to, “pride goeth before a fall.”
DUCKWORTH: That’s the gist, right?
DUBNER: Yeah, and it’s actually better.
DUCKWORTH: You know, so many quotes are not exactly what people think they are. Like if you actually look up the original Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, it’s not the streamlined version that’s used in Alcoholics Anonymous, but the streamlined version is better.
DUBNER: Well, you know, a bird in the hand was originally worth like 18 shillings, and then one pile of salt, and a big bag of wool. And then somehow —.
DUCKWORTH: How about two in the bush? That works!
DUBNER: Two in the bush really works. As far as I recall or understand, the seven deadly sins were actually constructed primarily, for the purpose of the clergy to adhere to so that they would not be distracted from their clerical duties, prayer, humility, devotion, and so on. So, really, the whole idea that we’re talking about the seven deadly sins in a modern construct while not acknowledging the kind of source-direction is a little bit bonkers, but super fun.
DUCKWORTH: Very fun.
DUBNER: We’re having a great time with the sins. So anyway, I can see why you especially don’t want a prideful clergy, so I understand pride in that context. But, here’s my question. Considering that many of us still pay attention to these so-called deadly sins, I have to ask: isn’t a moderate dose of pride a wonderful thing? Isn’t that essentially what we talk about these days as self-esteem? Or do you think — and you would know this better than many people — do you think we’ve all been riding the pride train a bit too hard, and we should instead be embracing its corresponding virtue, which is humility? Where do you stand on the pride to humility spectrum?
DUCKWORTH: So I think that pride can be a virtue, but I want to say something a little different from, “Well, a little bit of pride is a virtue, a lot a bit of pride is a vice.” I think that’s the first thing that people would think.
DUBNER: That’s the cop out. That’s the Dubner, easy way out, you’re saying.
DUCKWORTH: Well it’s also Aristotle.
DUBNER: And he was such a wimp.
DUCKWORTH: Like the idea of the golden mean, that anything to excess is a vice. And that in between the two extremes, it doesn’t have to be exactly the midpoint, but there’s some optimal level. But I think there’s an even deeper sense in which pride can be a virtue, but also can be a vice. And it’s that there’s two kinds of pride. And I’m not going to represent this as, “Angela Duckworth woke up one day and realized that pride is two things, not one.” I do want to acknowledge the psychologist who is more or less the world expert on the emotion of pride. Her name is Jessica Tracy. She’s at University of British Columbia, and she’s actually written a really lovely, popular book. I think on the cover there’s a peacock. And her thesis is that there are really two kinds of pride, but let’s first start with what these two things have in common. She wants to point out that, first of all, pride is an emotion. It’s an emotion like happiness or sadness or anxiety.
DUBNER: That surprises me.
DUCKWORTH: You don’t think about pride as an emotion.
DUBNER: I don’t. I don’t know what I would call it other than an emotion, but when I hear you talk about emotions — and we discuss that on the show quite a bit — I think of them as an emotional response, something that you feel in response to some sort of action or activity or statement, usually by someone else, but could be by yourself. But pride to me feels more like a longer-term response than an emotion. So tell me why that’s wrong.
DUCKWORTH: When you say, it’s a response to an action or an event, you know, that is actually how most of us, I think, experience the emotion of pride. In particular, pride is the emotion that follows success. So this is the feeling that we have when we accomplish something that we value. The other thing to say about again, this emotion, according to Jessica Tracy and her colleagues — I would agree with her, by the way — is that it’s a kind of emotion that we would call self-conscious emotion. And Stephen, we’ve talked about self-conscious emotions before, like embarrassment or shame. Those are two negative self-conscious emotions. When I say pride is a self-conscious emotion, it’s an emotion that is about ourself. So, for example, when children are below the age of 3 and they don’t really actually think of themselves in any kind of reflective way. For example, really little kids, when they look in the mirror — I mean really little, right, I don’t even remember exactly what the age cut off is — but they look in the mirror and they think it’s another baby. They don’t realize it’s themselves. So pride is a positive, self-conscious emotion that we have in the aftermath, if you will, of accomplishing a goal that we care about. And that core is common to good pride and to bad pride.
DUBNER: So, when you say there are two types of pride, this is what you’re talking about, good pride and bad. Because I was imagining like, salty and sweet pride.
DUCKWORTH: That’s popcorn.
DUBNER: But you’re saying there is just a pride spectrum. Mm-hmm.
DUCKWORTH: It’s not two ends of a spectrum. It’s actually much like salty and sweet. It’s two different things. So, again, I’m not taking the Aristotelian view that a little bit of pride is good and then you get to the extreme and you’re like, vice territory. What Jessica Tracy — and, again, she’s got students and collaborators — but this argument is that there’s authentic pride and then there’s hubristic pride.
DUBNER: Oh, I have seen that distinction. And when I read that, I thought, “Oh, that makes a lot of sense.” Authentic pride is what I would call earned. I did something that was worth praising by myself and perhaps even others. And then hubristic is whatever. Hubris we know all about. I mean, Icarus, plenty of examples historically of hubris. So if that’s the case, shouldn’t there be better words, then, rather than, “there are two kinds of pride, good pride and bad pride.” Shouldn’t you and your psychologist colleagues have —.
DUCKWORTH: Rewrite the English language? I mean, maybe you could say that hubris is a good word for hubristic pride, because it’s one word and not two. But the fact is that we use the word pride in both senses.
DUBNER: We really do. Even in the dictionary, in the Merriam-Webster, it lists pride as the good versions and the bad versions — the good versions being: “Reasonable self-esteem, confidence, and satisfaction in oneself; self-respect.” That sounds like a delicious thing. Give me more of that. Give everybody more of that. But then, same word: “Exaggerated self-esteem; conceit.” So, yeah, I think there’s a nomenclatural failing here and I’m really glad you’re clearing this up for us because I think when people think of pride — and probably the most famous quote, as you cited, “pride goeth … before a fall” — it’s really nice to disentangle these. How bad, though, is the bad pride and how good is the good pride?
DUCKWORTH: So, I guess let’s start with bad because I think a lot of people do think about pride as being something that they don’t want to have too much of. “Oh gosh, that person is” — I don’t know if they would say, “they’re so proud.”
DUBNER: No, have you ever heard anyone say that about someone? Arrogant or hubristic, but — .
DUCKWORTH: Not unless they’re talking about Pride and Prejudice, which I do actually like to talk about and watch and read a lot.
DUBNER: Go for it. I’m just going to take a nap, but it’s okay.
DUCKWORTH: The BBC version in particular. Colin Firth at his extraordinary peak. But anyway, when we’re talking about hubristic pride, or hubris, synonyms would be arrogant or conceited. Those are the things that you’re reading out of the dictionary or words of that ilk. I think the spirit of hubris or hubristic pride is you are self-aggrandizing. I think actually the peacock is the perfect image for this. Like you are maybe seizing admiration as opposed to earning admiration. And so you have this sense of an inflated — it’s like a balloon. It’s like being pumped up, but also, there’s a fragility there. And this is correlated with bad things like selfish behavior and narcissism. And this is, I think, just an interesting thesis that Jessica and her colleagues — you know, what they think is that from an evolutionary perspective, we have a hierarchical society and it is an advantage, in terms of reproducing, if you are higher in the status hierarchy. And one of the ways that you can be higher in the status hierarchy is to take it, to dominate and to be aggressive. So when she talks about hubris or hubristic pride, I really think there’s this idea that adaptively, we have an emotion. The feeling that can actually come from dominating other people. And that’s bad pride, I think we would agree. And then there’s the good pride. We should talk about that because I think that’s what she would say is the under-recognized kind of pride. But all of us, I think when we talk about it more, we’re like, “Oh yeah, I know what you’re talking about.” So, here, the words are like, accomplished and confident. And what research shows is that when you have that kind of pride, authentic pride, you’re actually more likely to be pro-social. So, not aggressive, but you’re also, actually — and I think this is what appeals to me about pride as an emotion — you’re driven to accomplish things. Like, one could argue that the great engine of human society, innovation, progress has been really pride.
DUBNER: First of all, I appreciate that explanation. Second of all, I have two responses. One trivial, the other slightly less trivial. Here’s the trivial one: Just this morning, Angela, I was reading a piece in The Times by Tony Scott — A.O. Scott is his byline — and he’s been one of the film critics for The New York Times for a bunch of years, maybe close to two decades. And it was a self-administered exit interview. And he was saying the films that he felt he got wrong, the films he felt he got right, the instances where he was too mean, too generous, etc. And one of the films that he felt good about hating — and he went back and reexamined his review of it and felt that he could have hated it even more — was Love Actually.
DUCKWORTH: What?! Gasp.
DUBNER: And I know you love that film and I know many people love that film. And I also — I don’t know if you remember this, but I did finally watch it sometime in the last year or two. It was on TV and I watched it, and I don’t know if you remember, we talked about it on the show. You said, “What’d you think?” And I, I hated it. Like, I hated it. I thought it was—.
DUCKWORTH: Too sappy? I think I’ve blotted that out of my memory.
DUBNER: Okay, but here’s the terrible thing I’m asking you now. When I read Tony Scott writing that about his review of Love Actually, I felt some pride. I thought, “I didn’t let myself get bullied by Angela into thinking that it’s an amazing, wonderful feel-good movie.” I felt, “No, I thought it was terrible and saccharine and staged and everybody chewing every scenery they could find.” So is that good pride or bad pride that I’m experiencing? That’s my trivial question, number one.
DUCKWORTH: So interesting. Was it authentic pride or hubristic pride?
DUBNER: Exactly. I think it was hubristic. I think it was like, “Hey Angela, she’s not so smart.” I think that’s what it was.
DUCKWORTH: I think perhaps only Stephen Dubner would be able to say what emotion that really was. Was it the one that makes you feel prosocial and positive and achievement oriented?
DUBNER: No, in fact, I feel bad about even bringing it up now.
DUCKWORTH: Or the aggressive, I’m kicking down — okay. Well there you go. Here was the other thing I was going to suggest as a clue, and this would be observable to others, so not just Stephen Dubner, but those who are observing Stephen Dubner. One of the interesting things about pride is that, it has a characteristic facial and body display.
DUBNER: Ooh, what are they?
DUCKWORTH: We should remind ourselves that emotions — sadness, fear, disgust, happiness — they have these characteristic facial and bodily displays. And why? It’s because emotions are interpersonal. So there’s an evolutionary story that we have emotions for a variety of reasons. One of the important reasons is that it communicates information to other people. So when you’re crying, other people know to come to your aid, for example. Or if you look scared, other people know to help you and also to be scared themselves. So what’s interesting about the pride display is that I think that authentic pride — and, again, I’m summarizing other people’s research, so there’s a qualifier here, which is my interpretation of this research is that the prototypical expression of pride, especially authentic pride, is you have your arms raised above your head, like in the Olympics, when somebody wins the gold medal. There’s also this characteristic display of, like, you’re standing with your arms and I think sometimes also your legs akimbo, you know, it’s like the Superwoman position — and I say that not thinking that a lot of people remember watching, Superwoman, but more recently, this idea that you could have these confident postures was popularized and studied by psychologist named Amy Cuddy. This was called power posing.
DUBNER: Would you describe the research as disputed?
DUCKWORTH: I could describe it as that. That would be a nice way. I’ll give you the capsule summary as far as I understand it. Amy Cuddy was at the time a professor at Harvard Business School and she was doing some collaborative work with others, but it was her TED Talk that popularized a scientific finding that was really kind of a gee-whizz finding, which is that when you randomly assign people in a laboratory study to take on these pride postures — that would change their feelings, they would change their behavior, and most provocatively, it would change your hormone levels — that if you put your hands above your head or you put your hands on your hips and you thrust your chest out in a prideful posture, that you could actually have more testosterone, for example, then coursing through your veins.
DUBNER: I tried to just do all those things at once. It was exhausting. I had to sit down. So I think I actually have less testosterone.
DUCKWORTH: Well, I will say that that finding, as provocative as it was, turned out through further study to not hold up. I mean, now just to fast forward, so here’s what I understand to be the very current view of this research, because now there are enough data sets that you can aggregate them and do meta analyses. Number one: This power posing, you know, this prideful expression where you ask people to take on the posture without necessarily even having the emotion, there is some evidence that when people take on this posture, they do have the feeling. So there is support for power posing in that sense — that if I put my hands on my hips and I thrust my chest out, and you ask me, “Angela, how do you feel?” that I won’t say what you just said, Stephen, which is like, “Oh, I actually kind of feel tired.” You know, I might say, like, “Oh, I feel more confident than I did when I was just slumped in my chair.”
DUBNER: Is it possible that it is true for a different physiological reason? For instance, when you do what you’re describing, one result of that is that you stand up straight, you thrust your chest out forward, and what you’re doing there is then giving yourself the kind of posture where your lungs start to actually give you more oxygen and therefore you feel a little bit smarter, more alert, and better about yourself. What you’re describing now is essentially the same thing that a lot of public speaking coaches give.
DUCKWORTH: Right, they’re like, “breathe with your abdomen.”
DUBNER: Literally the advice I got when I first heard about public speaking when I was a teenager is stand up and clench your buttocks together. And everybody laughs at it, right? That’s idiotic. Why do you do that? And the explanation was it has nothing to do with your buttocks, but if you do clench your buttocks together, that forces you to stand up straight. When you stand up straight, your lungs can expand a little bit more. And then you learn or remember to breathe, which many people in a nervous situation don’t breathe. And all of a sudden you’re getting oxygen to your brain and you’re feeling a little bit different than you did. So is it possible that the power pose does, quote, “work” on some dimensions, at least for a reason other than the emotional connection?
DUCKWORTH: Maybe, but you know, I don’t know. I don’t think that psychologists have focused on that in particular, but seems reasonable. I mean, the fact that there are emotional effects does just suggest that the original idea has some weight. I think a lot of people think like, “Oh, power posing isn’t true, period.” And I don’t think that’s fair. I think that you could say now from, I’m looking at this meta-analysis from 2022 from Psychological Bulletin, which is where you publish your meta-analyses — it’s like the top journal for meta-analyses, the whole journal is meta-analysis, wall to wall, of one kind or another. Last time we talked about power posing was a couple years ago, and anyway, it was before this meta-analysis came out which is published by Robert Körner and his colleagues, and has 313 effects from 88 studies involving close to 10,000 participants. And what they find is a statistically significant effect of body positions that, quote, “was not trivial in size.” There were effects for self-reported feelings and also some behaviors that were measured. Not for physiological things, like testosterone. It doesn’t rule out what you just said, you know, oxygen, etc. It just says that the very original idea, which is if you take on a certain posture that comes downstream from an emotion, can you actually reverse the causality? Yeah, I think this is pretty supportive of that. We shouldn’t go too far, but like, hey, isn’t that interesting? And the connection to pride, by the way, was just that, pride, if it is an emotion, should have a signature posture or facial expression. And this is evidence that cross-culturally, and in meaningful ways, we can think of pride as an emotion, even if it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of pride.
DUBNER: It’s funny. When you are at a football or soccer or basketball game, anywhere in the world or anything — any competition, anything where something good may happen — and you’re waiting for it and a goal is finally scored, everybody in the stadium does exactly the same thing, which is they stand up and throw their arms in the air.
DUCKWORTH: They throw their arms in the air! Yeah! I think this is what got the original power pose researchers, including Amy Cuddy, to be interested in that. And one of the things that’s fascinating is that blind Olympic athletes, whether they were blind from birth or not, also throw their arms up in the air in this classic power pose. And the fact that if you never learned it, because you never saw anybody do this nonverbal display, that suggests that this is some evolutionary wired thing that we do that. And it’s not dissimilar, I think, to a peacock spreading its feathers. But what I wanted to say about whether you’re looking down your nose at Love Actually, and feeling a frisson of pride about it, right? You asked me, is that authentic pride or is it hubristic pride? How do you know? And I said, “Well, partly it’s an emotion, so I should ask you.” But in terms of these postures — and I don’t know there’s a huge amount of data on this — but there is some suggestion that this hubristic form of pride, bad pride, has a slightly different posture to it. Now you still have this kind of upright, strong stance. You may have your arms akimbo, on either hip. But instead of looking slightly up and smiling, which is part of this pride posture — you tend to be smiling and you tend to look slightly up. So imagine your chin kind of pointing up. Imagine a selfie, right? Because people are always taking selfies from slightly above. This one you’re actually looking down slightly at the other person and you’re not smiling. Think of your favorite hated political figure, this kind of like, “I’ve got my hands on my hips, I’m looking down at you, and I’m slightly scowling.” That may be the characteristic nonverbal display of dominance.
DUBNER: So what I hear you saying is that there are two kinds of pride. Plainly, you said that well. And I’m just going to, in my mind, call the bad one hubris and the good one, earned or self-esteem. I kind of like self-esteem, which may not be exactly accurate. But I want to ask you a question about self-esteem. So I may very well be wrong here, it seems there was a movement beginning, I guess, in education and maybe confined to education a few decades ago, to boost the self-esteem of children by essentially praising them for everything — from tying your shoe to not poking your neighbor in the eye with the pencil and so on — with the hopes that building self-esteem would lead to more confidence and that confidence would lead to more accomplishment. But you could easily imagine that backfiring, or at least failing. That is, if you boost someone’s self-esteem and then they don’t end up accomplishing very much, then you just have a bunch of cocky young people who aren’t very good at anything. This is probably epitomized by the participation trophy among some parents. So what can you tell us about that?
DUCKWORTH: Let’s talk about what self-esteem is by just listening to some of the items on the classic measure of self-esteem, which is the Rosenberg self-esteem scale. And I think it was published—.
DUBNER: Not by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. That would be a very different scale.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, who are they?
DUBNER: They were the atomic spies who were electrocuted at Sing Sing.
DUCKWORTH: All historical allusions, I think we know Stephen, will be lost on Angela Duckworth.
DUBNER: There was another Rosenberg though, who had a scale.
DUCKWORTH: This is one of the most widely-used measures in psychology. And actually, because it was so well established, it also made its way into many of the large economic surveys that were done by like, the Department of Labor and so forth. So here are some items. “On the whole, I’m satisfied with myself. At times I think I am no good at all.” I feel that I have a number of good qualities. I am able to do things as well as most people. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.” There’s the connection to pride very directly. “I feel that I’m a person of worth at least of an equal plane with others. I wish I could have more respect for myself. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.” That is so sad. “I take a positive attitude toward myself.” And then finally, “I certainly feel useless at times.” So you get the gist of what self-esteem is, and when this research was at its height, that wealth of correlational data drove a lot of educators, for example, to think, “Oh, we better raise kids to have higher self-esteem, if we raise them to have higher self-esteem, they’ll achieve more,” was then questioned by the next generation of researchers. And they said, “Correlation is not causation. And in this case, you have the tail and the dog reversed — that when you achieve, then your self-esteem goes up, not the other way around.” So that was the debate in — I don’t know, I’m going to get the decades wrong. I’m going to say that was kind of more of a nineties position. So then, the next generation — so I’m now thinking of a paper that I read when it came out, and that was last year. Its two authors are Ulrich Orth and Richard Robbins and the title of the paper is, “Is High Self-Esteem Beneficial? Revisiting a Classic Question,” and I want to quote from their summary because this, to me, is really actually convincing. And so I’ll say that I’m in their camp. “Overall, the finding suggests that self-esteem is beneficial.” And they name many domains, you know, physical health, relationships, school, work, mental health. And then they go on to say, There’s substantial meta-analytic evidence — meaning you look at all the studies that have been done, you average their effects. They find the effect is visible, but small. And then the discussion goes on to say that, yeah, we should have interventions that boost self-esteem, especially, I think, for people at the very low end of the continuum.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions, Angela reflects on why she sometimes struggles to keep her pride in check.
DUBNER: I mean, do you think it’s connected in some way to your father’s expectations?
DUCKWORTH: Are you going all Freud on me?
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Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about pride.
DUBNER: Let me ask you a question. You’ve been running this Seven Deadly Sins survey on your website that’s linked from the NSQ website, and I’m curious what kind of questions you ask to get at pride. When people examine their own behavior, how do they get at the pride? Is it about bragging? Is it about feeling superior to other people?
DUCKWORTH: Let me read you the five items — and I think this Seven Deadly Sins Scale that we made especially streamlined for No Stupid Questions listeners is just a whole lot of fun. I will also confess to you, Stephen, before I read you these five items that pride, I don’t know if it cometh before the fall for Angela Duckworth, but it is my greatest sin. So when I look at my results from the No Stupid Questions survey, I see the bar for impulsivity in the domain of pride to be higher than all the other bars.
DUBNER: Can I interrupt for a second? When you characterize it as impulsivity in the domain, why is the impulsivity important?
DUCKWORTH: Well, I think of the seven deadly sins all as being forms of impulsivity. And I say that because these are behaviors that we enact in the heat of the moment that we typically regret afterwards. And I’ll read you these items and you can, you know, feel free to agree or disagree. Number one: “Showing off.” Number two: “Attracting attention to myself.” Three: “Exaggerating my abilities and accomplishments.” I had to say when I answered that item, I was like, “Yes, I do, I mean, I regret that I do, but I do.” Four: “Acting over confident and cocky.” And five: “Bragging.”
DUBNER: So you’re saying your Achilles’ heel of the seven is pride. So, let me ask you this. When you saw your result, how did that make you feel?
DUCKWORTH: Not so proud. I mean, the irony is that when you actually get feedback on pride, there’s a catch-22 that, like, if you’re really in that cycle of aggrandizing yourself, you might be particularly invulnerable to feedback there. But anyway, I have enough humility to let in this feedback and, you know, I’m thinking about my dad and I’m thinking about how we grew up. And I remember hating how my parents, especially my dad — actually, honestly, never my mom. So, let me just implicate my dad here. You know, friends would get in the car and my dad would ask them what their SAT scores were. It was just horrifying. And then we’d be like a party of your aunties and uncles and there’s like millions of dishes of Chinese food everywhere. And my dad would say things about my SAT scores or about X, Y, or Z accomplishment.
DUBNER: He was bragging or he was comparing you to people who’d done even better?
DUCKWORTH: He was bragging in those cases. In private, he would often compare to people who hadn’t done as well.
DUBNER: So you got it both ways. That’s nice.
DUCKWORTH: I know. And I don’t want to villainize my dad here because my point is that now I recognize that I do that. Like, “Hello, Kettle, I’m Pot.” I am also guilty of this sin of pride and I can’t blame it all on my dad. I’m just saying like, “Hey, this is a problem for me.”
DUBNER: When you read those results and you think back — and that was a really interesting and thoughtful connection to where part of that may have come from — does it make you want to do anything about it, change behavior in some way?
DUCKWORTH: Well, I will point out that in this Seven Deadly Sins Scale, we only talk about hubristic pride, this is the bad form, because it’s the sin scale, not the Hey-these-seven-deadly-sins-could-be-virtues-if-you-think-about-them-this-way scale. So first of all, I will say, absolutely. I feel like the people that I like most, Stephen, are so humble. They really are. Like, they’re so amazing and they are in the most genuine way, not thinking about their amazingness. And I’m not saying they’re apologizing all the time, because that kind of annoys me when people are, like, just falling all over themselves to say how awful they are. I feel like it wastes time. And then you have to reassure them. I’m not talking about that. I’m just saying that they’re not thinking of themselves in this way that is drawing attention. And I think there’s something at the core of pride, when it takes this sinful form, of you sucking the attention of the universe to you. And so to notice that I do that — you know, I was just yesterday in this conversation and we were talking with other researchers about where to send a research paper. And I said — and I deeply regret it. I’m blushing even to think. I said like, “Well, lately I’ve been publishing all my papers in —.” and I told them the journal, which is PNAS, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DUBNER: Or, Penis, as we call it.
DUCKWORTH: You know, I can’t believe they chose that but they did. Yes, PNAS, or say it as you want. But when I think back to this conversation, again, fewer than 24 hours ago, I think, like, what an awful thing to say. It’s such a braggy thing. Like, “Oh yeah, I’ve been publishing all my papers in this top journal outlet.” And I think there is this kind of tendency that I have to, if not exaggerate, certainly point to my achievements and like, gross! I don’t know exactly why I do it.
DUBNER: What do you think it’s doing for you? What itch is it scratching or what appetite is it fulfilling, do you think? I mean, do you think it’s connected in some way to your father’s expectations?
DUCKWORTH: Are you going all Freud on me?
DUBNER: I was just trying to go there without even saying we were going anywhere, but I’m loving this. Yeah. No, I’m just curious what you think it’s satisfying and whether maybe that thing that you think is necessary to satisfy isn’t so necessary.
DUCKWORTH: I am going to go back to my dad, but not in the way of, “Oh, it’s my dad’s fault” or “I learned it,” but just as an example. When my dad died, my mom took a peacock feather that she somehow found —.
DUBNER: Did she find it on a peacock and pluck it out, or you’re saying she just found one feather?
DUCKWORTH: No, she did not go to the zoo, and like, mug a peacock. I’ll have to ask her where she found this peacock feather, or maybe she bought one.
DUBNER: There is a hotel in Copenhagen that is an old hotel and it backs up onto the oldest amusement park, I think, in the world. It’s just like an old time amusement park that was built in Copenhagen. And if you’re in that hotel, there are peacocks that hang out on your back deck and they come up and try to do things with you, some of which don’t feel very friendly.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, what? What do you mean?
DUBNER: You know, peacocks in my experience are — I don’t want to call them nasty. I’m sure there are some nice ones, but, they’re —.
DUCKWORTH: I think they are supposed to be kind of aggressive though, right?
DUBNER: They’re on the aggressive side. They are the dachshund of the bird world.
DUCKWORTH: I just didn’t know if you were violated by them or something.
DUBNER: I was not violated, but I could imagine that people could have been violated. So all I’m saying is that if I’d gotten my hand on one of those peacocks, I would’ve pulled out a fistful of feathers just to teach them a lesson.
DUCKWORTH: Well, I’m glad to know that about you, Stephen.
DUBNER: And I would’ve given them all to your mom.
DUCKWORTH: If this ever comes up, if we’re ever traveling in old Europe.
DUBNER: You never know when one little piece of information might be handy.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, I’m going to write that down. Okay. I do not know how my mother came upon this peacock feather, but she found it to be the perfect metaphor for my dad’s whole approach to life. She painted a painting — this is just days, I think, after my dad died. And it’s a beautiful painting. It’s all like dark blues and emerald greens and it’s kind of abstract. And if you look very closely, layered into the paint is this actual peacock feather. And I put it actually between our first and second floor so that every time I come down the stairs, I see this painting.
DUBNER: Look at you bragging that you have more than one floor in your house. That is just so prideful.
DUCKWORTH: Well done, Angela.
DUBNER: I have to admit, I’ve been cheating on you a little bit. I’ve been chatting with ChatGPT a little and I asked them why pride is considered a deadly sin, and I am very interested in this answer. ChatGPT tells me: “Pride is considered a deadly sin because it involves an excessive sense of self-importance, arrogance, and the lack of humility. It is seen as the most serious of the deadly sins because it can lead to other sins such as envy, greed, and wrath.” In other words, pride is the root of all evil.
DUCKWORTH: Maybe that’s why it cometh before the fall, at least in our streamlined version.
DUBNER: I’m curious what you think about that. Do you feel it’s such a powerful emotion, the bad version of pride, the hubristic version, that it can either lead to or contribute to or kind of amplify the others? Or do you see it as standing alone somehow?
DUCKWORTH: I’ve heard this argument for almost everything. You’re like, “This is the real queen bee of the sins because it leads to all these other things.” I’m not saying that these arguments aren’t without worth, but you can make those arguments for other —.
DUBNER: You’re saying that fourth-century monks didn’t have the causal chain established very well with a lot of good empirical analysis. Is that what you’re saying?
DUCKWORTH: Well, yes. You can construct that same narrative, I think, for some other ones. You know, what about greed? Like greed gets you into trouble. I will say that the fact that when you look at people’s behaviors across these seven sins, you find a lot of variation, but you find some consistency, too. In other words, if you tell me your score on sloth, I can make an educated guess — an imperfect one, but an educated guess that’s better than chance — about how you’re going to do on pride, for example. And just the fact that there are some commonalities across this suggest to me less that one sin leads to the others — that’s possible, but maybe there’s a foundational skillset that gets you into trouble across all these different domains. So I’m more inclined to think about things that would lead a human being to struggle across the board with sin, less inclined to think like, “Oh, here’s the first domino and that leads to all the other dominoes falling.”
DUBNER: I also asked ChatGPT to give me a good humble brag.
DUCKWORTH: Ooh, you love humble brags. I feel like every time I say anything you say it’s a humble brag.
DUBNER: Oh, I feel terrible now. Did I say that about your love of Love Actually?
DUCKWORTH: No it’s usually when I confess something. It’s usually when I say like, “Oh my God, I —” and then I say something, which I think is a self-critical thing, and you’re like, “Oh, nice to humble brag.” And I’m like, “What?”
DUBNER: That just shows how much I love you and I’m willing to say it directly to your face. But the humble brag that ChatGPT gave me — it’s fine. It’s kind of generic. It was something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m sorry I don’t look so put together. I had to rush to get to work this morning because the C.E.O. wanted to meet with me again because I’m so awesome.”
DUCKWORTH: Well that’s a good one! Good ChatGPT.
DUBNER: It’s pretty good. So, I would actually love to hear from our listeners — this is maybe the funnest version of the bad side of pride — but I’d be curious to hear from our listeners what is the best humble brag you’ve ever heard, or, even better, done. So if you have an idea, send it to us. Make us a voice memo. You can send it by email, but we like voice memos even better because we can maybe play them on the show. Use your phone to make a voice memo in a quiet place. Include your name and email it to us at NSQ@Freakonomics.com. So Angela, look, we have discussed all seven of the seven deadly sins by now. But I think if we were to summarize my thumbnail summary would be, “Wow, they’re extremely outdated.” They seem to be outdated in both direction and magnitude. And that makes sense because they were established hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years ago. But I’m really curious to know what you feel you’ve learned about yourself by looking at these seven deadly sins.
DUCKWORTH: If we think about pride in particular, I guess you would say my Achilles’ heel, at least by my own data, and then actually, if I think about the sins that I don’t struggle much with — I actually got a phone call from someone who said, “I don’t believe that you don’t procrastinate.” And then we actually had a conversation about it. He’s like, “Come on, everybody procrastinates.” And I was like, “I know I must procrastinate a little, but let me tell you, not a lot. I can’t think of the last time I procrastinated.” But I’m not saying I’m a perfect person. When I think about the sins that I struggle with, the sins that I don’t struggle with, I think, to me, it raises the question: Why? You know, why is it that I struggle with pride? Why is it that I struggle so little with procrastination relative to that? But I guess I must feel this temptation to name-drop, to say what journals I’ve been publishing in, to brag. I don’t feel this temptation to wake up in the morning and do anything but work. I really feel this impetus, like my body’s moving toward my laptop. So of course then that raises the question: why are we tempted in some domains and not others?
DUBNER: You’re low in sloth of all forms. And you’re high in pride. If there are seven, how many can you get away with having a high score of impulsivity before you start to crumble?
DUCKWORTH: One could argue that any of these to excess is your downfall. So maybe it’s not only pride that cometh before the fall, but also wrath.
DUBNER: Lust cometh before a fall?
DUCKWORTH: Lust has gotten a lot of people into trouble. You could argue, though, that there is a baseline level of self-control that you need across all of these domains — I mean, it’s just not hard to imagine that. Taken to their extreme, any of these can be your downfall. What it also suggests is that you don’t have to be, I think, a saint in all of these either. I mean, who doesn’t have some jagged line when you look across your scores? I do.
DUBNER: Well, this needs more conversation. And Angela, if you agree that it’s a good idea, next time on the show I want to go through your findings from the survey because basically what you’ve done is invited the listeners of No Stupid Questions to assess themselves on your scale, and you have that data and you’re willing to present it to us. Is that correct?
DUCKWORTH: I am. That’s a challenge I’m willing to take on.
DUBNER: Alright, talk to you next week, Angela.
This episode of No Stupid Questions was produced by me, Katherine Moncure, with help from our production associate, Lyric Bowditch. And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation.
Early in the episode, Angela refers to the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. This is the prayer commonly quoted as: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Although the prayer is usually credited to Neibuhr, recent scholarship has found that it was first coined in 1933 by a theologian named Winnifred Wygal, who studied with Neibuhr. Then, Stephen mischaracterizes A.O. Scott’s recent comments on his review of Love Actually. Stephen says “He went back and reexamined his review of it and felt that he could have hated it even more.” In fact, what Scott wrote was: “Every few years someone publishes the bold, contrarian discovery that Richard Curtis’s Love Actually is, actually, bad. I’m just petty enough to point out that I said as much back in 2003.” Finally, Stephen describes a hotel in Copenhagen that has peacocks and backs up onto the oldest amusement park in the world. The Nimb Hotel in Copenhagen has peacocks and is next to Tivoli Gardens, which was founded in 1843. But, the oldest amusement park in the world is actually Bakken, which opened in 1583 and is just outside Copenhagen.
That’s it for the fact-check. Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some of your thoughts about last week’s episode on gambling and greed:
Mike QUAID: Hi, Stephen and Angela. I’ve done very little gambling, but I’ve experimented with betting against desirable political outcomes. For example, I was strongly opposed to Brexit, but bet a small amount of money on it happening. So when it did, I could console myself with a small financial return on an otherwise undesirable outcome.
Laurel MCHARGUE: Hi, Angela and Stephen. This is Laurel McCarrick from Salida, Colorado, and I chose to spend some money in slot machines in Vegas recently. I started with $5. I was very excited. The first seven came down, the second seven came down, and then nothing. So I laughed. Anyway, there are no bells, no whistles. It’s kind of like, I don’t know, they’re like video games now. There was nothing really satisfying, and the 40 cents that I did win came out in a slip that I had to take to an ATM machine to get my quarter nickel and dime. So the whole thing just wasn’t satisfying. My advice: If you want that dopamine rush, save your dollar bills for the drag brunch.
Mark ROSENGARTEN: Hi, my name is Mark Rosengarten from Newburg, New York. I used to be a high school chemistry teacher. And when we had rough times, I would play the lottery. Why? Because it allowed me, for a brief moment of time, the fantasy that I was going to be okay, that I’d be able to survive without having to go into such a toxic work environment every day. I don’t know if you would call that greed. And now that I’m retired and have a pension, I kind of feel like I’ve hit the lottery and I wish everyone had the opportunity to do that. Anyway, thank you. Love the show. Bye.
That was, respectively, Mike Quaid, Laurel McHargue, and Mark Rosengarten. Thanks so much to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. And remember, we’d still love to hear about your favorite humblebrag. Send a voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. Let us know your name and whether you’d like to remain anonymous. You might hear your voice on the show!
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela look at the results from all the listeners who took the Seven Deadly Sins survey.
DUBNER: Ah, I cannot wait. I’m tingling with sinful anticipation.
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
* * *
No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne, with help from Jeremy Johnston. We had research help from Joseph Fridman and Dan Moritz-Rabson. Our executive team is Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, and Stephen Dubner. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. And now, you can also find our episodes on YouTube! If you know someone who doesn’t listen to podcasts but spends a lot of time on YouTube, tell them to go to Youtube.com/@Freakonomics — that’s the “at” sign, followed by “Freakonomics.” To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
DUCKWORTH: I was regaled by his hootin’ and hollering. He’s like, “Six point game — six! Five! Five-point game!”
- Aristotle, ancient Greek philosopher.
- Amy Cuddy, social psychologist, author, and former professor of psychology at Harvard Business School.
- Ulrich Orth, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Bern.
- Richard Robins, professor of psychology and director of the Personality, Self and Emotion Lab at the University of California, Davis.
- A. O. Scott, former film critic for The New York Times.
- Jessica Tracy, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.
- Winnifred Wygal, 20th-century author, theologian, and lecturer.
- Seven Deadly Sins Survey, by No Stupid Questions (2023).
- “And Now Let’s Review …” by A.O. Scott (The New York Times, 2023).
- “Pride: The Emotional Foundation of Social Rank Attainment,” by Jessica Tracy, Eric Mercadante, and Ian Hohm (Annual Review of Psychology, 2023).
- “Dominance and Prestige: Meta-Analytic Review of Experimentally Induced Body Position Effects on Behavioral, Self-Report, and Physiological Dependent Variables,” by Robert Körner, Lukas Röseler, Astrid Schütz, and Brad J. Bushman (Psychological Bulletin, 2022).
- “Is High Self-Esteem Beneficial? Revisiting a Classic Question,” by Ulrich Orth and Richard Robins (American Psychologist, 2022).
- “The Effect of Body Position on Pulmonary Function: A Systematic Review,” by Shikma Katz, Nissim Arish, Ariel Rokach, Yacov Zaltzman, and Esther-Lee Marcus (B.M.C. Pulmonary Medicine, 2018).
- “Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success,” by Jessica Tracy (2016).
- “Why Zoos Are Purging Themselves of Peacocks,” by Geoff Williams (The Washington Post, 2015).
- “Pride: It Brings Out the Best—and Worst—in Humans,” by Jessica Tracy (Scientific American, 2013).
- “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are,” by Amy Cuddy (TEDGlobal, 2012).
- “Pride, Personality, and the Evolutionary Foundations of Human Social Status,” by Joey T. Cheng, Jessica Tracy, and Joseph Henrich (Evolution and Human Behavior, 2010).
- “Authentic and Hubristic Pride: The Affective Core of Self-esteem and Narcissism,” by Jessica Tracy, Joey T. Cheng,Richard W. Robins, and Kali H. Trzesniewski (Self and Identity, 2009).
- “The Spontaneous Expression of Pride and Shame: Evidence for Biologically Innate Nonverbal Displays,” by Jessica Tracy and David Matsumoto (PNAS, 2008).
- “Pride,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
- Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale.
- Seven Deadly Sins, series by No Stupid Questions.
- “Is It Okay to Hate Highbrow Culture?” by No Stupid Questions (2022).
- “Is Self-Improvement Too Selfish?” by No Stupid Questions (2022).
- “How Do You Deal With Intrusive Thoughts?” by No Stupid Questions (2021).
- Love Actually, film (2003).
- Pride and Prejudice, T.V. Series (1995).