Self-Promotion in Psychology: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

We see self-promotion everywhere--on social media platforms, billboards or even in conversations. Learn the definition of self-promotion, examples, downsides, and best practices in this lesson.

What Is Self-Promotion?

Alan is thrilled when Maya, the cute girl across the bar, shoots him a look of interest. After he approaches her, he wants to make sure she knows how smart, successful and talented he is. Alan talks about his skills and IQ, as well as the fact that he just received a promotion at work with a significant raise. While Maya was attracted to Alan's physical appearance, his pathetic attempts at self-promotion are incredibly unattractive.

Self-promotion is attempting to present yourself to others as an accomplished, capable, smart and skilled person. Self-promotion can be done through face-to-face conversation, on blogs or social media platforms, in public speeches, or even through our mannerisms, posture, speech or dress. Self-promotion is a natural tendency as we like for others to perceive us as having wonderful qualities, such as intelligence and talent.

There are times where a little self-promotion is necessary and acceptable, especially when competing for scarce resources, such as in an interview vying for a job with 50 other applicants, or when you are 1 of 28 women competing for the love and affection of one man on a dating show like The Bachelor. Yet, research shows that self-promotion in most cases can backfire in terms of social likability, in that it comes across as boastful and obnoxious to others.

Self-promotion is often seen as necessary and acceptable in a job interview.
Job interview

Examples of Self-Promotion

Following are some specific examples of self-promotion:

  • A mom tells a group of tired moms that she is grateful to be well-rested due to the success she has had in sleep training her 3-month-old daughter.
  • A realtor shares an article published in realtor magazine on his social media page that features him as having the top sales of the month.
  • A physical trainer at the gym wears only a sports bra and short workout shorts to the gym to convey the message that if others follow her lead, they too can have a similar body.
  • A kindergartener brags that he has a swimming pool and water slide in his backyard while trying to impress new friends.

Downsides to Self-Promotion

People who self-promote tend to believe that others will respond to their self-promotion in a favorable manner. Yet, research studies have found the opposite to be true. Although self-promotion may make the braggart appear more competent, skillful, intelligent and successful, it usually makes them less likable. Self-promotion can make people come across as conceited and annoying to others. In fact, the more people try to make others like them through methods of self-promotion, the more likely others will dislike them.

Social Media

Social media has become one of the main platforms of self-promotion. The difficulty with social media is that many of the self-promoter's followers don't see them in person or on a day-to-day basis. The bragging can therefore seem phony and superficial. Without seeing the real person behind the bragging, self-promoters often appear egotistical and self-centered on social media platforms.

Gender Differences

Interestingly enough, studies have shown that women who self-promote are seen less favorably than men who self-promote. Perhaps this is due to deeply-ingrained gender roles of women being subservient and passive and men being more dominant and assertive. For this reason, it is seen as more acceptable for a man to brag. This often leaves women in a rough position. They are seen as lacking competence and assertiveness if they don't self-promote, yet they are seen as socially insufferable and annoying if they do.

Best Practices of Self-Promotion

Tom was the creative director at an advertising agency. He was hard-working, punctual, a great team player, highly intelligent, and skillful at creating fresh and innovative ads. Tom never bragged or tooted his own horn. He didn't have to; his skills, work and intelligence often spoke for themselves. Tom's modesty made him highly likable amongst his colleagues.

Often a person's confidence and self-promotion is not valuable or admired unless it is paired with obvious signs of their competence (intelligence, skills, talents, work, etc.). Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychologist and professor of business psychology at the University of London, believes that too much value has been placed on the importance of confidence and self-promotion. Chamorro-Premuzic believes that people have become overly narcissistic compared to those in decades past and that they should focus on working hard and competence rather than trying to portray themselves in a positive light.

Tactics in Self-Promotion

Following are four tactics in self-promotion that might be more socially tolerable:

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