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Portrait of the Rugged Individualist: The Nonverbal Pride Display Communicates Support for Meritocracy

  • Author(s): Horberg, Elizabeth Jane
  • Advisor(s): Keltner, Dacher
  • et al.

Emotions profoundly influence beliefs about morality and justice (Haidt, 2001) and emerging research suggests that expressions of emotion communicate an individual's moral attributes to others (e.g., Brown, Palameta, & Moore, 2002). The present research examines the moral beliefs signaled by the nonverbal pride display. Pride is triggered by appraisals that the self merits high status and greater access to resources (Tracy & Robins, 2004) and pride's nonverbal expression has been shown to convey these appraisals to observers (Shariff & Tracy, 2009). Guided by appraisal-tendency frameworks of the association between distinct emotions and moral beliefs (Horberg, Oveis, & Keltner, 2010), I predicted that the nonverbal expression of pride would communicate greater support for meritocracy--the belief that social and material resources ought to be distributed according to merit--relative to egalitarianism, or beliefs that resources ought to be distributed in ways that promote equality of outcomes. Study 1 demonstrated these effects using unfamiliar male and female targets posing pride or joy in photographs. Study 2 found that individuals previously shown a photo of Barack Obama expressing pride, relative to a neutral expression, subsequently rated Obama as more likely to endorse meritocracy. Finally, Study 3 tests the validity of pride-based inferences of support for meritocracy. This study demonstrated that individuals who spontaneously expressed pride to a greater degree were more likely to advocate dividing a resource between the self and another on the basis of merit rather than equally. Moreover, consistent with Studies 1 and 2, observers rated the high-pride expressers as more likely to support meritocracy and less likely to support egalitarianism.

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