When Saying “I’m Best” Is Benign: Developmental Shifts in Perceptions of Boasting

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Abstract

Four studies explored developmental changes in attitudes toward boasting. Overall, 5- to 7-year-olds (N = 130) were more likely than 8- to 11-year-olds (N = 126) and adults (N = 263) to view characters who boasted about valued traits as likable. In Study 1, younger children, unlike the older participants, liked and morally valued boasters who were accurate about their boasts. Justifications suggested the 5- to 7-year-olds perceived the boaster as sharing knowledge and being potentially helpful. No age group liked boasters who misrepresented themselves. In Study 2, boasters about valued traits were less liked by all ages than those who untruthfully downplayed their own abilities to please others. Adults, however, preferred boasters when the traits were unimportant and easily verifiable. In Study 3, a boaster was contrasted with a humble character, who never spoke about possessing the positively valued trait. Younger children showed a significant preference for the boaster, while older children and adults strongly preferred the humble person. Finally, Study 4 supported the proposal that younger children like boasters because boasters provide information about a capacity to help. Indeed, younger children valued boasters as potential helpers as much as they valued those who explicitly offered to help. Older participants did not differ from chance in their expectations that boasters could help. These age-related shifts in attitudes toward boasting may arise from a convergence of developmental changes in 4 underlying related processes—social sharing, self-presenting, discerning motives, and overoptimism.

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