How Pride Influences the Desire for Uniqueness

HUANG, Xun Irene | DONG, Ping | MUKHOPADHYAY, Anirban

Pia is a young, hotshot, product manager with an MBA from a top school; she’s just delivered a presentation at her company’s board meeting, during which the CEO praised her lavishly. She heads to a fancy restaurant to celebrate, where she needs to decide between the bar’s signature best-selling cocktail or the limited-edition microbrew. Which will she choose, and will the pride she is feeling play a role in her choice?

Research carried out by Xun (Irene) Huang, Ping Dong and Anirban Mukhopadhyay suggests that her sense of pride will have an effect. In fact, her decision between the popular cocktail and the unique beer might well depend on whether she attributes her pride to who she is – i.e. a blue-label MBA – or what she has achieved – that is, masterminded a knockout product launch.

Pride is an emotional response to success or achievement. We feel pride at key life events, such as graduation, and also in everyday situations, for example when our teacher praises our latest essay, or we demonstrate self-control by losing weight on a diet.

Previous research has mainly focused on how incidental pride influences a person’s behavior in a personal setting. The current research, on the other hand, explores whether and how incidental pride can influence consumers’ motivations to conform versus stand out, in particular the tendency to choose minority-endorsed options.

Hubristic vs authentic pride
Psychological research suggests that there are two types of pride: hubristic and authentic. Hubristic pride, one of the Biblical sins, is associated with a feeling of superiority and is associated with narcissism and aggressive behavior. Authentic pride, in contrast, is a by-product of hard work and is associated with perseverance. Until now, consumer research has largely treated pride as one construct.

This research integrates these two facets of pride with consumers’ beliefs (“lay theories”) to investigate when, and why, proud consumers choose to diverge from the majority. The researchers proposed that when consumers attribute pride to traits that are distinctive to themselves, they feel hubristic pride and are likely to seek uniqueness. 

Six studies were carried out with students from the University of Toronto, CUHK and members of an online panel; all showed that apparently subtly different types of pride produce very different outcomes. Researchers measured and manipulated the two types of pride and measured and manipulated the lay theories to influence the consequent attributions. Across these studies, people attributing their pride to traits, that is, who they are, compared to those attributing their pride to effort, i.e., what they did, preferred uniqueness more. 

The research was also able to pinpoint the mechanisms that underlie these effects. People feeling hubristic pride were more likely to make trait-based attributions, which activates a greater need to be unique and leads to a preference for distinctive products or minority-endorsed opinions.

This is the first research to examine whether and how any emotion – in this case, incidental pride – can affect consumers’ uniqueness seeking, and advances the understanding of the mechanisms by which incidental pride can influence the tendency for unique products. Hubristic pride can increase preferences for unique options across a range of products, not just luxury items. This type of pride makes people feel special and motivates them to choose more unique products; authentic pride does not induce a similar response. In sum, this research shows that the way people attribute their successes depends on their beliefs, and hubristic pride, which stems from people attributing success to who they are rather than what they did, can drive people to distance themselves from others.


Associate Provost (Teaching & Learning), Provost Office, Lifestyle International Professor of Business, Chair Professor