Psychologists say the way we choose to share our good news is rather revealing

Young woman jumping in air, arms and legs outreached, portraitBy Alex Fradera

When you get a great piece of news, who do you tell? Do you get on the phone to your best friend? Launch the news onto Facebook to sail the sea of Likes? Do you congratulate yourself in front of someone you know doesn’t enjoy the same fortune or ability? Or do you keep it to yourself? Let me share some good news with you: according to research published recently in the Journal of Individual Differences, your answers to these questions may say something about you.

Cara Palmer and her colleagues had 251 US undergrads take a personality questionnaire, then asked them to imagine they’d experienced a number positive events like getting a good grade or hosting a great party, and to say how likely it is that they would share this news in one of three ways.

One way was to tell a good friend or family member about the news, to capitalise on the event, squeezing the juice out of the good experience by revisiting it with an encouraging audience. The women in the sample more often than the men said that they would probably do this. The personality trait Agreeableness, and having more empathy, were also associated with capitalising on good news.

Another way of sharing that the researchers asked the participants about was whether they would brag about the event, enhancing their self-image by announcing their achievement to someone liable to be envious, like a classmate who struggled on the exam that they themselves had aced. Bragging is normally considered more prototypically masculine, but overall rates of hypothetical bragging were similar across genders.

However, Palmer’s team drilled into the data to find different clusters of responses, and found that only men showed a propensity to fall into a distinct “bragger” group whose other forms of hypothetical news sharing were unremarkable – 30 per cent of men fitted this description versus just five per cent of women. The women braggers, by contrast, tended to be big sharers all round, being more likely than average to say they would share their news in other ways too. Regardless of gender, braggers tended to be less agreeable and conscientious: this is consistent with the idea that to brag you have to be insensitive to the reactions of others and not careful enough to restrict your decisions to avert conflicts in the future.

The final type of sharing that the researchers asked about was mass-sharing of events on social media. Palmer’s team expected to find gender effects here, as women spend more time on social sites like Facebook than men, and they often cite a major reason for using such sites is to mass-share information, but in this dataset there were no gender differences. In terms of personality, the researchers found that those who said they would mass-share were more likely to score high on narcissism (conversely, those participants who said they were least likely to share in any way tended to be less narcissistic).

Extraversion played a small role in these findings: it was correlated with capitalising but otherwise unrelated to the sharing types or clusters. This is consistent with the familiar experience of being on the receiving end of good news stories from an extravert friend –  studies show they tend to experience more positive events to begin with.

Sharing is generally a good thing, especially one-to-one capitalising that allows you to reflect on and process experiences. The positive psychology movement also suggests that acknowledging and noting good experiences is, at least in moderation, beneficial for our psychological health and wellbeing. Bragging, in contrast, can generate resentment and ostracise acquaintances, and is a behaviour better discouraged. This research suggests that male braggers may stand out more obviously, whereas women may brag as part of their share-heavy style where it blends in more – but may be no less corrosive. Next time you want to share something great that’s happened to you, have a think about what you are trying to get out of this – and whether your audience really need to hear it. Don’t let your good news be another’s bad.

How do people share their positive events? Individual differences in capitalizing, bragging, and mass-sharing

Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Contributing Writer at BPS Research Digest

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