Basking in Reflected Glory (BIRGing)

Picture yourself standing next to a celebrity at a gala event, grinning from ear to ear as photographers capture the moment. You’re not the star, but for a brief moment, you feel like one, don’t you? This emotional high is more than just a fleeting thrill; it taps into a psychological phenomenon known as “Basking in Reflected Glory,” or BIRGing for short.

So, what is BIRGing? It’s the act of enhancing your own self-image through your association with someone or something viewed as successful or prestigious. This isn’t just armchair psychology; scholars have been studying this concept for years, trying to pin down its intricate mechanisms.

The Science Behind BIRGing

Ever wondered why wearing a branded T-shirt makes you feel cool or why you feel proud when a fellow alumnus makes headlines for some groundbreaking work? The science of BIRGing offers some intriguing answers.

What Is Basking in Reflected Glory?

Basking in Reflected Glory, or BIRGing, is the act of enhancing one’s self-esteem by identifying with successful people or groups. You’re not actually participating in their success, but their win feels like your win.

The Psychology of Association

In a landmark study from 1976, psychologist Robert Cialdini and his colleagues at Cornell University found that students were more likely to wear their university’s apparel after the school’s football team had won a game.1 This phenomenon wasn’t observed when the team lost. In essence, the students wanted to be publicly associated with a successful entity, suggesting that associating ourselves with winners boosts our own self-esteem.

Another study found that BIRGing even affects the endocrine system: When male sports fans watched their favorite team win, their testosterone levels increased. When they watched their team lose, testosterone decreased.2

A feeling of involvement is also necessary for BIRGing to occur. It is frequently seen as a cognitive process that affects behavior. In Bernhardt et al.’s study published in 1998,[11] researchers examined physiological processes related to BIRGing, specifically, changes in the production of endocrine hormones. Fans watched their favorite sports teams (basketball and soccer) win or lose. The men’s testosterone levels increased while watching their team win, but decreased while watching their team lose. Thus, this study shows that physiological processes may be involved with BIRGing, in addition to the known changes in self-esteem and cognition.[8]

Do you ever notice yourself doing this? Maybe you don’t own a sports jersey, but perhaps you’re quick to mention your connection to someone successful, or even your loyalty to a top-performing brand.

A Mirror to Ourselves: The Social Identity Theory

Building on these observations, other researchers have connected BIRGing to the broader framework of Social Identity Theory. According to this theory, much of our self-concept comes from the groups to which we belong. When a group we associate with succeeds, we feel elevated because that group’s success becomes a part of our self-identity.

The renowned psychologist Henri Tajfel argued that our association with successful groups not only enhances our self-esteem but also helps us differentiate ourselves from other groups. Therefore, BIRGing serves a dual purpose: it lifts us personally and distinguishes us socially.

So, what’s your take? Do you feel that your self-esteem is in any way tied to the groups or individuals you associate with?

Whether we realize it or not, the science shows that BIRGing is a deeply ingrained part of human psychology, serving various emotional and social functions. But like anything in life, it comes with its own set of complications and nuances, which we’ll explore next.

Why Do We Bask in Reflected Glory?

Emotional Benefits

First and foremost, BIRGing is a shortcut to a happiness boost. When your favorite team wins or someone you look up to accomplishes something remarkable, you feel good, right? That’s because BIRGing triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.

Enhanced Social Status

Research by Jan Kornelis Dijkstra found that teenagers who were more closely affiliated with popular peers (e.g. as “best friends”) had higher popularity themselves, and adolescents who were “respected” by popular peers (mutual liking but not necessarily friendship) had the highest likability. Adolescents unrelated to popular peers had the lowest likability.3

Strengthening Social Bonds

BIRGing has a social function too. When everyone in a community supports the same sports team or holds the same values, the collective act of BIRGing can enhance social cohesion. A research paper published in the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” supports this, stating that shared successes can strengthen group bonds and foster a sense of unity.

Do you feel a deeper connection with people when you share in their successes, even if it’s just by association? For many of us, this shared glory can be a catalyst for deeper, more meaningful relationships.

The Dark Side: When Basking Becomes Bragging

While BIRGing can uplift you emotionally and socially, it can also cross into the realm of bragging or self-aggrandizement. You know the type: the people who are quick to flaunt their distant relation to someone famous or their once-upon-a-time role in a project that succeeded. While their intent might be to BIRG, the perception might be one of arrogance or narcissism.

Remember, it’s one thing to feel pride; it’s another to let that pride morph into something less appealing. Where do you draw the line?

In essence, BIRGing is a double-edged sword. It can make us feel wonderful and tighten our social fabric, but it can also make us come across as self-absorbed if not kept in check. And speaking of checks, let’s move on to some personal reflections to explore how this phenomenon has played out in my own life.

The BIRGing Spectrum: Where Do You Stand?

By now, you might be getting a clearer picture of how BIRGing manifests in your life. But let’s not stop there; let’s dig a bit deeper. The truth is, BIRGing isn’t just a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. It exists on a spectrum that ranges from innocent pride to overt boasting. The key question is: where do you find yourself on this spectrum?

Questions for Self-Reflection

  • Do you find yourself BIRGing often?
  • Is it mainly with accomplishments you had no part in?
  • How do you feel after a good session of BIRGing? Elated? Satisfied? Or perhaps a bit guilty?

Take a moment to mull over these questions. By understanding your own tendencies, you can gain valuable insights into how you view yourself in relation to others and how you navigate your social world.

The Balancing Act

Balancing on the fine line between healthy pride and egotistical boasting is an art form. On the one hand, BIRGing can offer a valuable boost to your self-esteem and social standing. On the other hand, excessive BIRGing can turn you into “that person” everyone avoids at parties. It’s a bit like seasoning a dish—you want just enough to enhance the flavor but not so much that it overwhelms.

So, how do you find this balance? Well, the first step is awareness. Being cognizant of your BIRGing tendencies allows you to calibrate your behavior, making sure you’re enhancing rather than diminishing your social standing.

Are you ready to find your balance? What steps can you take to ensure that your BIRGing enriches rather than detracts from your relationships?

Your position on the BIRGing spectrum isn’t set in stone. With awareness and a touch of self-regulation, you can engage in BIRGing in a way that uplifts both you and those around you. And speaking of upliftment, let’s talk about some practical tips for keeping your BIRGing both healthy and genuine.

Practical Tips: How to Bask in Reflected Glory the Right Way

Here’s some actionable advice to help you bask in reflected glory in a way that’s both satisfying and socially beneficial.

Be Genuine

First things first, sincerity goes a long way. Celebrate the accomplishments of those you truly care about or genuinely admire. People can usually spot inauthenticity from a mile away. When your excitement is genuine, it not only enhances your own mood but also contributes positively to the atmosphere.

Share, Don’t Steal the Spotlight

Remember, the glory primarily belongs to the individual or group who earned it. Feel free to share in their success, but be mindful not to divert attention towards yourself unduly. The point is to bask in the glory, not to hijack it.

A simple test for this is to ask yourself: “Is my association adding to the celebration or redirecting it?”

Keep It Contextual

Time and place matter. Bragging about your child’s academic achievements might be well-received at a family gathering but could be off-putting in a professional setting where it’s irrelevant. Being mindful of the context can help you navigate when and where BIRGing is appropriate.

Reflect Before You Speak

Before you name-drop or tout your association with a successful entity, take a moment to reflect. Ask yourself what you aim to accomplish with your BIRGing. Are you looking to boost your self-esteem, connect with others, or both? Sometimes, taking a brief moment to reflect can save you from stepping over the line into boastful territory.

Gauge Reactions and Adjust

Pay attention to how others are responding to your BIRGing. Are they smiling and engaging, or do their eyes glaze over? Being attuned to others’ reactions can offer immediate feedback, allowing you to calibrate your approach in real-time.

How do these tips resonate with you? Can you see yourself applying them the next time you find an opportunity to BIRG? The goal here is not to eliminate BIRGing—after all, it’s a natural part of our psychological makeup—but to do it in a way that is both personally fulfilling and socially harmonious.

So go ahead, bask in that reflected glory. But as you do, keep these tips in mind to ensure that you’re enhancing, not just your own life, but also the lives of those around you.

Embrace BIRGing as a Human Experience

There we have it—a deep dive into the fascinating world of Basking in Reflected Glory. We’ve explored the science that elucidates why we engage in this behavior, looked at its emotional and social implications, and even touched upon the cautionary aspects of it. Through personal reflections, I’ve shared how BIRGing has surfaced in my own life, hopefully giving you a lens through which to view your own experiences.

So, what’s the takeaway? BIRGing, like many aspects of human psychology, is a tool. When used correctly, it can elevate our mood, strengthen our social bonds, and even offer a sense of communal identity. But like any tool, it can also be misused. The key is to navigate the complex emotional and social terrain with awareness and balance.

As you move forward, I encourage you to engage in some introspection. Think about the times you’ve basked in reflected glory and what it’s meant for you. Armed with your newfound knowledge and practical tips, you’re well-positioned to make the most out of this universal human experience.

Isn’t it fascinating how something as simple as a sense of association can have such profound impacts on our lives? It’s like capturing a ray of sunlight and finding that it can, indeed, brighten up not just your world but also the world of others around you.

So, the next time you find yourself swelling with pride over your favorite team’s victory or a friend’s accomplishment, go ahead and bask in that reflected glory. But do so mindfully, enriching both your life and the lives of those with whom you share this intricate tapestry of human experience.

  1. Cialdini, Robert B., Richard J. Borden, Avril Thorne, Marcus Randall Walker, Stephen Freeman, and Lloyd Reynolds Sloan. “Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies.” Journal of personality and social psychology 34, no. 3 (1976): 366. (Full PDF) ↩︎
  2. Bernhardt, Paul C., James M. Dabbs Jr, Julie A. Fielden, and Candice D. Lutter. “Testosterone changes during vicarious experiences of winning and losing among fans at sporting events.” Physiology & behavior 65, no. 1 (1998): 59-62. ↩︎
  3. Dijkstra, Jan Kornelis, Antonius HN Cillessen, Siegwart Lindenberg, and René Veenstra. “Basking in reflected glory and its limits: Why adolescents hang out with popular peers.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 20, no. 4 (2010): 942-958. ↩︎

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