Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Mark Griffiths - my Pride

Prof Griffiths is at Nottingham Trent Uni
Before writing this blog, I knew very little about ‘The Sin of Pride’. To me it was the title of an LP by The Undertones that I bought in 1983 when I was 16 years old from Castle Records in Loughborough. I perhaps learned a bit more about it when I watched Brad Pitt in the film ‘Se7en’ (which coincidentally just happens to be one of my all-time favourite films).

Since agreeing to write this I did a bit of research on the subject (which admittedly means I did a quick Google search followed by a more considered in-depth search on Google Scholar). While I’m no expert on the topic I can at least have a decent pub conversation about it if anyone is prepared to listen. Just to show my complete ignorance, I wasn’t even aware that the sin of pride is the sin of all sins (although I could in a pub quiz be relied upon to name the seven deadly sins).

I was asked to write on this topic because I was seen as someone who is very proud of the work that I do (and for the record, I am). However, I have often realized that just because I am proud of things that I have done in my academic career it doesn’t necessarily mean others think in the same way. In fact, on some occasions I have been quite taken aback by others’ reactions to things that I have done for which I feel justifiably proud (but more of that later!).

At a very basic level, the sin of pride is rooted in a preoccupation with the self. However, in psychological terms, pride has been defined as 'a pleasant, sometimes exhilarating, emotion that results from a positive self-evaluation' and has been described as one of the three ‘self-conscious’ emotions known to have recognizable expressions (shame and embarrassment being the other two). From my reading of the psychological literature, it could perhaps be argued that pride has been regarded as having a more positive than negative quality, and is usually associated with achievement, high self-esteem and positive self-image – all of which are fundamental to my own thinking. My reading on the topic has also led to the conclusion that pride is sometimes viewed as an 'intellectual' or secondary emotion. In practical [psychological] terms, pride is either a high sense of one's personal status or ego, or the specific mostly positive emotion that is a product of praise or independent self-reflection.

One of the most useful distinctions that can be made about pride (and is rooted in my own personal experience), is what Stephen Lea and Paul Webley (who just happened to be my two PhD supervisors at the University of Exeter) distinguish as 'proper pride' and 'false pride'. They claim that:

'Proper pride is pride in genuine achievements (or genuine good qualities) that are genuinely one's own. False pride is pride in what is not an achievement, or not admirable, or does not properly belong to oneself. Proper pride is associated with the desirable property of self-esteem; false pride with vanity or conceit. Proper pride is associated with persistence, endurance and doggedness; false pride with stubbornness, obstinacy and pig-headedness.'

As I noted above, there have been times when I have been immensely proud of doing something only for friends and colleagues to be appalled. ‘Proper pride’ as Lea and Webley would argue. One notable instance was when I wrote a full-page article for The Sun on ‘internet addiction’ published in August 1997. I originally wanted to be a journalist before I became a psychologist, and my journalist friends had always said that to get a full-page ‘by-line’ in the biggest selling newspaper in the UK was a real achievement. I was immensely proud - apart from the headline that a sub-editor had dubbed my piece ‘The Internuts’ – and showed the article to whoever was around.

I had always passionately argued (and still do) that I want my research to be disseminated and read by as many people as possible. What was better than getting my work published in an outlet with (at the time) 10 million readers? My elation was short-lived. One close colleague and friend was very disparaging and asked how I could stoop so low as to “write for the bloody Sun?” Similar comments came from other colleagues and I have to admit that I was put off writing for the national tabloids for a number of years. (However, I am now back writing regularly for the national dailies and am strong enough to defend myself against the detractors).

More recently in 2007, I was invited to the House of Commons by the ex-Leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith and invited to Chair his Centre For Social Justice Working Party on Gambling and write a report as part of the Conservative Party’s ‘Breakthrough Britain’ initiative. Anyone who knows me will attest that my political leanings are left of centre and that my working with the Conservatives on this issue was not something I did without a lot of consideration. I came to the conclusion that gambling was indeed a political issue (rather than a party political issue) and if the Conservative Party saw this as an important issue, I felt duty bound to help given my research experience in the area. I spent a number of months working closely with Iain Duncan Smith’s office and when the report was published I was again very proud of my achievement.

However, as soon as the report came out I received disbelieving and/or snide emails asking how I could have 'worked with the Conservatives'. I have spent years trying to put the psychosocial impact of gambling on the political agenda. If I am offered further opportunities by those with political clout, I won’t think twice about taking them. I am still immensely proud of such actions despite what others may think.

This post is part of the Research Digest's Sin Week. Each day for Seven days we'll be posting a confession, a new sin and a way to be good. The festivities coincide with the publication of a feature-length article on the psychology behind the Seven Deadly Sins in this month's Psychologist magazine.


Ben said...

Sounds to me like you need to get less pretentious friends. I sincerely doubt they'd have had the same reaction had you written for the Guardian, despite it being just as partisan as the right wing papers albeit in a far more fashionable line of political thought.

As a side note I just thought I'd say that I have great respect for your work with gambling and when I studied Psychology of Addiction at A-level (a chapter which you and Banyard co-wrote!) I found your studies insightful. This same issue of false perception, as with pride, appears in gambling with the assessment gamblers make of the amount of skill required to succeed in a gambling game (e.g. overestimating it with skillless games like Roulette). It seems that internal misrepresentation of the external world causes trouble wherever we go!

Rugeirn said...

If you want to read one of the best studies of pride ever done, pick up a good translation of the Antigone of Sophocles, and study it carefully for its depiction of Kreon.

(See for a good modern version.)

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