Comment Emotion Review Vol. 2, No. 2 (Apr. 2010) 180–181 © 2010 SAGE Publications and The International Society for Research on Emotion ISSN 1754-0739 DOI: 10.1177/1754073909355015 er.sagepub.com
Pride in Parsimony Lisa A. Williams
University of New South Wales, Australia
Northeastern University, USA
Abstract Tracy, Shariff, and Cheng (2010) present a timely and eloquent review of the current research on the emotion pride in terms of a naturalist framework. The present commentary not only echoes arguments relating to pride’s adaptive function, but also highlights some points of theoretical clarification. Specifically, we question the necessity of the naturalist approach and the emphasis on two facets of pride.
Keywords emotion, functionalism, pride
Admittedly, pride, even among the social emotions, has been relatively ignored when it comes to empirical tests of functionality. As Tracy, Shariff, and Cheng (2010) point out, however, this situation is changing, with increasing attention placed on the potentially critical adaptive role of this emotion. Such focus is overdue, as it appears that this emotion is pivotal to navigating the status hierarchy. We agree with many of the points described in Tracy et al.’s review, including the emphasis placed on describing the functionality of pride in terms of both intra- and interpersonal situations. Indeed, as they note, our research examining behaviors exhibited by proud individuals has demonstrated this emotion’s role in fostering both long-term, goal-directed behaviors (Williams & DeSteno, 2008) and the esteem of others (Williams & DeSteno, 2009). Although we applaud Tracy and colleagues for moving the study of pride to the forefront, we do question the approach of arguing for a naturalist view of pride while also presenting a strong view of pride as a multifaceted state. In essence, the naturalist approach described posits pride as a natural kind, among other emotions such as disgust, fear, and anger. At their hearts, natural kind approaches to emotion necessitate evidence for biologically-based, universal, evolved components of emotions that are discrete from those of other emotions (e.g., Izard, 2007; Panksepp, 2007; but see Barrett, Lindquist, Bliss-Moreau et al.,
2007). That is, pride, if it were truly a natural kind, would possess discrete expressive, behavioral, and physiological attributes. We do not disagree with the view that pride has distinct functionality from other emotional states (e.g., happiness; Williams & DeSteno, 2008, 2009), nor do we call into question the nature of the nonverbal expression of pride identified by Tracy and colleagues. What gives us pause, however, is the attempt to argue that each facet of pride (i.e., authentic and hubristic) constitutes a natural kind. The available evidence regarding differences and similarities between the two facets suggests that authentic pride and hubristic pride may in fact be indistinguishable with regard to nonverbal expression and behavioral outcomes—two important attributes for a naturalist view. If each facet of pride were a natural kind, each should have a distinguishable, easily recognized nonverbal signal, as well as a differentiable neurobiological signal. However, as noted by Tracy et al. (2010), data for such a view is lacking. With regard to differentiation of nonverbal signals, it seems that context is necessary to disambiguate authentic from hubristic pride. As has been argued elsewhere (Barrett, Lindquist, & Gendron, 2007), the necessity for context or other associated conceptual knowledge to identify an emotion stands in contradiction to the view that the emotion is “basic,” or constitutes a natural kind. Rather, such findings suggest that the sought-after distinction is instead a nominal kind (i.e., man-made category), with labels serving consensual utility. With regard to the current argument, this implies that authentic and hubristic pride are categories which are perhaps linguistically useful, but not do not carry the characteristics that classically qualify natural kinds. Instead, we see the distinction between authentic and hubristic pride as identifying situational and contextual characteristics of a single emergent state. This singular view of pride is further supported by the lack of clear evidence of differentiated neurobiological markers of each facet, as acknowledged by Tracy et al. (2010). Similarly, as natural kinds, each facet should have a distinct functional role. Tracy et al. call upon the distinction between prestige and dominance to argue for different functions of authentic and hubristic pride. While this is indeed an intriguing hypothesis,
Corresponding author: Lisa A. Williams, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW AUS 2052, Australia. Email: [email protected]
Williams & DeSteno
we wonder if such a difference merely reflects different avenues towards a similar adaptive function. Just as the emotion fear might facilitate adaptive responses by increasing the likelihood of either fight or flight responses, pride might facilitate both short-term and long-term status and also be seen as singular. Put differently, the experience of pride might lead to different behaviors associated with status depending on context. This view is notably different from that which argues for innatelyderived action-tendencies for two types of pride, as set forth by the naturalist account. To our knowledge, no other emotion is consistently viewed as having two distinct types of functionality based on the different routes by which it fosters specific outcomes (e.g., increases in status). In opposition to our view, one might argue, as have Tracy et al., that the two proposed “facets” of pride capture clear variability in terms of personality correlates, and therefore constitute natural kinds. Especially salient is the view that hubristic pride accounts for negative interpersonal associations while authentic pride accounts for those that are more positive in nature, a fact which might lead one to consider the two as distinct natural kinds. However, the fact that adaptive states can have both positive and negative outcomes is true for almost all emotions. Any emotion, when experienced either in too great an intensity or, more apropos to the current issue, in response to incorrect elicitors, can lead to problematic outcomes. Overgeneralized fear is highly problematic even though fear, when experienced in response to appropriately threatening stimuli, can be beneficial. Accordingly, we have argued for an approach to pride that highlights its adaptive role, but allows for explanation of its potentially maladaptive outcomes by recognizing that, as with all emotions, pride might not be an optimal response when experienced in an overgeneralized manner, in a context outside of the eliciting event, or in too high an intensity. Our view, then, is that the emotion pride constitutes one singular construct that is experienced in different ways depending on combinations of dispositional tendencies and situational factors. Much like other emotions that can be thus experienced (e.g., sadness as tied to an event or as overgeneralized to depression, fear as tied to an eliciting object or as debilitating phobia or anxiety), pride likely has adaptive outcomes when
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appropriately tied to a valid eliciting situation, but potentially maladaptive ones when overgeneralized or overblown. In our view, it is unnecessary and perhaps counterproductive to insist that the two “kinds” or facets of pride constitute basic or evolved states from a naturalist view. To do so would require greater dissociation among the components (e.g., expressions, physiology) than the evidence appears to support, at least at the moment. In sum, we agree with many of the arguments set forth in the present naturalist account of pride (Tracy et al., 2010), yet fail to see the successful blend between such a perspective and the view that pride is constituted by two discrete facets that have distinct functions at both the intra- and interpersonal level. It may be worth considering, therefore, that pride, like many emotions, can be emergent and experienced in different ways toward adaptive ends. Such a view does not deny in any way pride’s importance as a force in shaping status hierarchies in the social mind, but does free it from the constraints of debate about its instantiation in the physical brain. In light of the acknowledged scarcity of evidence for differentiable expression and neurobiological signals, this, at least at present, appears to be a more parsimonious view of this emotion.
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