Why Are People So Annoying?

It’s human nature to want other people to think well of us. And indeed we are often called upon to put our best foot forward—highlighting our accomplishments and character traits in job interviews and on first dates. So we get a lot of practice in effective self-presentation.

Then why are so many people annoying?

The simple answer is that, despite all our natural inclination and practice, much of our self-presentation backfires. And it backfires because we too often misunderstand the tradeoff between self-promotion—blowing our own horn—and humility. The fact is that modesty, or even self-effacement, can be more effective than bragging in creating a good first impression. Most of us know this from being on the receiving end, yet we still err on the side of self-aggrandizement.

But why do we get it wrong so much of the time? Here’s where some new research may be illuminating. Psychological scientist Irene Scopelliti of City University London and her colleagues believe that this common but harmful behavior is really a failure of emotional perspective taking. Emotional perspective taking requires predicting how somebody else will respond to your situation—putting yourself in their shoes and adjusting for what you see.

But bridging this so-called “empathy gap” is very difficult, and we often fail at it. We assume that others share in our emotions, and thus underestimate the real difference between our emotions and the emotions of others. So we talk openly about our achievements and successes—we brag—because we genuinely believe that others share our joy and pride in those accomplishments. When they don’t—and they often don’t—our self-presentation fails. We are annoying.

At least that’s the hypothesis that Scopelliti and her colleagues decided to test in a few experiments. They wanted to see if self-promoters overestimate others’ positive reactions to them, and underestimate the negative. To test this, they asked a group of subjects to describe in detail an occasion when they bragged to someone about something. They were then asked to describe the emotions they had felt, and the emotions they believed the recipient had felt. Other subjects did the opposite, describing a time when someone had bragged to them. The scientists expected that self-promoters would be more likely than recipients to experience positive emotions, and that they would erroneously project those positive emotions on to the recipient.

And that’s just what they found. Self-promoters were more likely to report positive emotions, and much more likely to believe that recipients also felt positive emotions, when in fact they had not. Similarly, self-promoters were less likely to report negative emotions, and less likely to project negative emotions on to the recipient—when in fact that’s what the recipients felt. In other words, self-promoters’ judgments were egocentric. They were unable to fully adjust their perspective and imagine someone else being annoyed with their bragging.

The scientists wanted to double-check these results and investigate the empathy gap in a different way. So they again had subjects take the part of either the self-promoter or the recipient. They then asked the self-promoters to estimate the recipients’ experience of these discrete emotions: happiness, pride, jealousy, annoyance, anger, upset, and inferiority. The recipients rated themselves on these same emotions. The scientists then compared the two groups’ judgments, with some interesting results: First, self-promoters overestimated the extent to which recipients would feel happy for them and proud of them. And they way underestimated the extent to which others would find them annoying.

The scientists ran a final experiment to see if all this miscalibration has consequences. Specifically, they wanted to see if people who are trying to make a good impression tend to brag excessively, deluded by the belief that their self-promotion will work. And they did, as described in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. When their goal—manipulated in the lab—was to be liked and judged as successful, subjects did engage in more self-promotion, but their efforts backfired. Indeed, the more they engaged in self-promotion, the less the others liked them—and the more they dismissed them as braggarts.

So self-promotion can be much more annoying than we think it is. But it may backfire for another reason as well. Others may also assume that braggarts aren’t holding anything back, so there is nothing positive left to discover. If, by contrast, someone is modest in self-presentation, and hints of good things dribble out, then others may assume that there is much—qualities, skills, character traits—that remain unrevealed.

Follow Wray Herbert’s reporting on psychological science in The Huffington Post and on Twitter at @wrayherbert.


I agree. last night I had dinner with a friend who brags non stop and can’t take a hint that I am annoyed by my body language and eye movement. I eventually took out my cell phone and payed attention to her…LOL Those people just don’t get it and it annoys me because I don’t want to waste my time with them I wonder if I should say something to help them not be so annoying??? These peoplen are accomplished and wonderful and I like having them as a friend but this gets so crazy. Them is a her.. Just to be clear.

There are numerous other ways that human’s are annoying. I was confused when your Topic sentence said, “Why are people so annoying”, and then your article focused on only one aspect, bragging to the point of being annoying.

I find that annoying! I was hoping for a more in-depth discussion on why people are annoying.

Correct! People are annoying in every way imaginable, so to document each & every detail would be impossible.

I agree with commenter Ray Blacketer.

I wonder if the scientists realize I am annoyed by them bragging about their experiment?

I don’t really understand this article at all .

Hello, I saw your comment. I totally understand that you don’t get it, but, if you don’t get it.. try and get someone to help you.

-Doctor Philleum from Nashville, TN

I find people annoying when they are wasteful, impatient or selfish, like idling engines for no reason, wasting water, eating food in a store before buying it, always trying to one-up others, etc.

This article just touched on one facet of annoying-ness.

I agree. I cannot stand people that live in their little bubbles and forget about the entire collective around them. Drives me nuts!

My annoyance is finding most people you run into are emotionally unintelligent. So I do understand the “empathy gap”, but not only for the trait of bragging. That was only one aspect. Simple things as not seeing someone is tired but you keep on walking or shopping; someone is on the phone but you try to have a conversation with them; close talkers; just not “seeing” someone. What you say and what you do are two very different things.

Okay so basically people are really annoying. There’s this one kid and i do not like him at all. I just hate how quick people are to say that we’re being bullies towards them.

I definitely agree. People are very annoying. People can be selfish, petty, disobedient, but, all you have to try to do is ignore them. 🙂

-Doctor Philleum from Nashville, TN

People are VERY annoying. I was at my grandma’s house over the short spring break and she kept going in-and-out of the house. It was very annoying. I tried to ignore it, but, I couldn’t. Eventually, It got chaotic and she wouldn’t stand still.

-Doctor Philleum from Nashville, TN

Most people are annoying because they don’t know how to be interesting or intelligent. That’s reason enough to go to war.

People who are annoying usually have an emotional issue as a root cause. Loneliness and a lack of self esteem generates annoying behaviors as people constantly seek the validation of others. It’s unfortunate to live each day trying to prove oneself to the world. They fail to realize this attention seeking behavior is pushing others away.

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