ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (5): 1131-1142.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.01131

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Modesty brings gains: The mechanisms of individual psychology and social culture

ZHENG Chuhua1, WANG Xin2, WU Yanhong2()   

  1. 1Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China, Beijing 100038, China
    2School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences and Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavior and Mental Health, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  • Received:2021-06-24 Online:2022-05-15 Published:2022-03-24
  • Contact: WU Yanhong


Modesty, or humility, is a character strength and virtue jointly advocated by Eastern and Western cultures, which promotes individuals’ well-being and helps us better cope with risks and difficulties. In the past two decades, researchers from different fields have studied the concept structure, measurement method, influencing factors, and effects of modesty, and made important progress.
From the perspective of psychology, modesty has been regarded as an important personality trait, which involves the individual internal and interpersonal characteristics, such as moderate self-perception, low self-centeredness along with high pro-social tendencies, and less self-enhancing or boastful. The phenomenon of "modesty brings gains" is also reflected in individual and interpersonal aspects. Modesty helps individuals evaluate themselves objectively and accurately, reduces self-enhancement bias, and has a positive impact on the individuals’ mental health; modesty helps individuals succeed in interpersonal communication, reduces interpersonal conflicts, and maintains good interpersonal relationships; modesty can promote teamwork within the organization, maintain team harmony, and be helpful for the long-term development of the individual and organization. However, the question of how modesty functions has not yet been fully explained.
Based on previous studies, the current work examined the mechanism of "modesty brings gains" from three perspectives: cognition, motivation, and norms. The cognitive hypothesis of "self-knowledge" suggests that modesty is an individual's willingness to seek objective and accurate self-knowledge or the ability to correctly view their strengths and weaknesses. It includes two internal processes: metacognition and low self-centeredness. From the perspective of metacognition, modesty involves the individual's static awareness and reflective evaluation of self-related information, as well as the dynamic process of self-regulation. Low self-centeredness means that modest individuals have low self-centered tendencies, no sense of entitlement and superiority, and are good at discovering the advantages of others and affirming their contributions.
The motivation hypothesis of "social oil" focuses on the social characteristics of modesty and emphasizes the important role of modesty in creating, regulating, and maintaining harmonious interpersonal relationships. Modesty is a polite rule in social interaction, conveying the message of friendliness, cooperation, and altruism. People who take modest self-presentation strategy can avoid potential interpersonal risks, protect others' self-esteem, and maintain balance in interpersonal relationships. Modest individuals will not only in the aspect of behavior control their desire and impulse, and act more fairly in cognitive level, which helps to maintain social harmony.
The normative hypothesis of "traditional virtues" pays attention to the cultural attributes of modesty, and emphasizes the influence of social and cultural environmental factors on the formation and adaptability of modesty. In Chinese culture, modest is not only a personal inherent trait but also an important social norm that affects people's behaviors in social interactions. The norm of modesty is a kind of social script, which limits the social behaviors that individuals should make in interpersonal interaction. Violating the norms of modesty can easily arouse people's resentment, even hostility and exclusion.
Modesty is a complex psychological phenomenon involving multiple aspects such as personality, cognition, culture, and society. The current study provided explanations of the mechanism of "modesty brings gains" from three perspectives, and future research is encouraged to explore the connotation and psychological structure, the potential boundary conditions and neural basis of modesty.

Key words: modesty/humility, haughtiness invites ruin, modesty/humility receives benefits, self-knowledge, social oil, traditional virtue