Are we bragging too much?

Elizabeth Bernstein on what many feel is a growing problem: bragging. “We've become so accustomed to boasting that we don't even realize what we're doing.”

“We brag because we can,” says Julie Hanks, a licensed clinical social worker who has a therapy clinic in Salt Lake City. “And a lot more people are listening.”

People brag for all sorts of reasons, she says: to appear worthy of attention or love or to try and cover up our deepest insecurities. To prove to ourselves that we're OK, that people from our past who said we wouldn't measure up were wrong. Or simply because we're excited when good things happen to us.

And talking about ourselves feels good. According to the results of a series of experiments conducted by Harvard University neuroscientists and published in May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the reward areas of our brain—the same areas that respond to “primary rewards” such as food and sex—are activated when we talk about ourselves. We devote between 30% and 40% of our conversation time to doing just that, according to the study, which didn't focus on boasting specifically, but on self-disclosure.

…Unfortunately, some people can't seem to tell the difference between sharing positive information that others might actually want to know and flat-out crowing. Let me help: Bragging involves comparison, whether stated or implied. “It's being overbearing and showing excessive pride,” says Ms. Hanks.