Basking in Reflected Glory


Fair Weather Fan

Basking in reflected glory (BIRGing) is a self-serving cognition whereby an individual associates themself with successful others such that another’s success becomes their own. What is interesting about BIRGing is that the simple affiliation of another’s success is enough to stimulate self glory. The person engaging in BIRGing does not even need to have been personally involved in the successful action with which they are affiliating themselves.

Examples of BIRGing include anything from sharing a home state with a past or present famous person, to religious affiliations, to sports teams. For example, a parent with a bumper sticker reading ‘My child is an honor student’ is basking in the reflected glory of their child. Within social psychology, BIRGing is thought to enhance self-esteem and to be a component of self-management.

BIRGing has connections to social identity theory, which explains how self-esteem and self-evaluation can be enhanced by the identification with another person’s success by basking in reflected glory not earned. Social identity is the individual’s self-concept derived from perceived membership of social groups. Having high self-esteem is typically a perception of oneself as attractive, competent, likeable, and morally good person. The perception of having these attributes make the person feel as if they are more attractive to the outside social world and thus are more desirable to others to be in a social relationship. BIRGing is a widespread and important impression management technique to counter any threats to self-esteem and maintain positive relations with others. Some positive effects of BIRGing include increasing individual self-esteem and feeling accomplished. It can show pride of self as well as pride for the other person’s success, thus boosting their self-esteem as well. BIRGing can be negative when done too extensively that the individual engaging in BIRGing becomes delusional or forgets the reality that they did not actually accomplish the successful event.

One of the most influential studies of this phenomenon was done by Robert Cialdini in 1976. He discovered that the students sought to have the success of their football team linked to them by wearing school-identified apparel. These students associated themselves with a success, even though they in no way affected or caused it. Subjects used the pronoun ‘we’ to associate themselves more with a positive than a negative source. This was shown most prominently when their public reputation was at risk. When the subjects failed a task, they had a greater tendency to affiliate themselves with a winner, and less of a tendency to associate themselves with a loser.

A feeling of involvement is also necessary for BIRGing to occur. This phenomenon is usually seen as a cognitive process that affects behavior. A 1998 study examined physiological processes related to basking in reflected glory, 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. The opposite of BIRGing is cutting off reflected failure. This is the idea that people tend to disassociate themselves from lower status individuals because they do not want their reputation affected by associating with people who are considered failures.

Over recent years, advances in technology (among other domains) have challenged the classic definition of BIRGing. For example, when Apple Computers became very successful, many individuals not only purchased Apple products, but many more sought jobs or other associations with the company. Contemporary BIRGing in today’s world can be seen by individuals not only associating themselves with the success of other people or groups, as was originally thought by Cialdini among others; Rather, BIRGing is the association of oneself to any company, business, or activity which is popular or highly regarded. Facebook, twitter, and other social networking sites have increased BIRGing with popular brands, as it allows everyone to post their affinity for or their associations with popular companies, media, businesses, etc. Furthermore, the ability for everyone to follow their favorite athletes, actors, etc. on Facebook or twitter allows for a closer connection to and knowledge of these celebrities, therefore leading to more BIRGing. Thus, the spread of technology has not only increased the realms under which BIRGing may fall, but also increased the ease with which individuals may partake in BIRGing.

Psychological approaches to BIRGing would include Ludwig Lewisohn’s behavioral approach, Charles Darwin’s evolutionary approach, and to some extent even Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic approach. The behavioral approach is relevant to BIRGing as it analyzes the behavior and success of others. If one partakes in observing this behavior, they can learn which actions and people are successful or popular and can then engage in BIRGing by associating themselves with these actions or people. Darwin’s evolutionary approach can also be used to analyze BIRGing due to the idea behind survival of the fittest. In contemporary psychology, survival of the fittest applies to achieving the greatest successes possible in order to ensure the passage of one’s genes into future generations. From this biological perspective, it is favorable to be popular and respected, as more mating opportunities will present themselves. This can be seen in BIRGing as individuals associate themselves with popular, attractive, or respected actions and people in order to be perceived as having more successes. Freud’s psychodynamic theory can be applied to BIRGing in terms of the super ego’s relationship to the ego. The super ego refers to the ideal self image; it constitutes a view of one’s self as perfect. The ego refers to the real self, meaning our consciousness and perceptions of our current selves. Thus, if an individual seeks to gain more respect or popularity, the super ego may lead to BIRGing, as that individual will associate him or herself with popular and respected entities in order to increase that individual’s notion of ego.

Another equally important contributing influence is deindividuation, a psychological state characterized by partial or complete loss of self-awareness, diffused responsibility, and decreased concern about our own behavior resulting in the abandonment of norms, restraints, and inhibitions. Deindividuation involves a loss of self-awareness which is essentially the degree to which one’s attention is focused on the self, resulting in comparisons against meaningful standards. When spectators’ become deindividuated, their self-awareness plummets and they cease comparing their behavior against these standards, the consequence being increased responsively to situational forces. Without the comparison process of self-awareness, people’s behavior is more likely to be inconsistent with their attitudes.

BIRGing is used by most people in every aspect of their life. Anecdotal evidence explains how people make connections with highly positive or successful people. States and cities like to list the names of famous entertainers, political candidates, beauty contest winners, etc. who were born there. When someone accidentally runs into a celebrity in a restaurant or airport and for days after this encounter, he/she recount the story to anyone who will listen. This is because he/she is proud of the fact that he/she went to the same restaurant as a famous and successful individual. People go to college or join specific business because of who else attends/works there now or in the past. Humans are always trying to boost their self-esteem so they continually attempt to bask in reflected glory.

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