Understanding the Brain

Basking in reflected glory

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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.[1]

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, when a fan of a football team wears the teams jersey and boasts after a win, this fan is engaging in BIRGing. A parent with a bumper sticker reading “My child is an honor student” is basking in the reflected glory of their child. While many people have anecdotal accounts of BIRGing, social psychologists seek to find experimental investigations into BIRGing. [2] 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.

Empirical findings

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 the success. Through three different experiments, he was able to demonstrate the BIRGing phenomenon. The first experiment demonstrated the BIRGing phenomenon by showing that students have a greater tendency to wear apparel with the university’s colors and name after the football team had won a game. In the second experiment, 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. The third experiment replicated the finding that students used the pronoun we more when describing a victory compared to a non-victory by their school's football team. The researchers found that BIRGing is an attempt to enhance one's public image. The tendency to proclaim a connection with a positive source was strongest when one's public image was threatened. Thus, people bask in reflected glory to boost their self-esteem by associating themselves with a positive source.

A feeling of involvement is also necessary for BIRGing to occur. This phenomenon is usually seen as a cognitive process that affects behavior. In Bernhardt’s et al. (1998) study, they 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. Boen et al. (2002) demonstrate this effect in a political context. They examined houses with at least a poster or lawn sign supporting a political candidate days before elections in Belgium. The houses that showed support for the winning candidate displayed their poster and lawn sign for a longer period after the elections than did those who supported the loser. Thus, the tendency for individuals to display their association with a successful source and a tendency for individuals to conceal their association with a losing team was empirically supported. This finding also shows that this phenomenon is not limited to the United States.

These empirical studies show how even in controlled situations, people unconsciously seek acceptance by associating themselves with successful individuals. Whether this is accomplished by wearing brand names or covering your car with stickers about how talented your child is, basking in reflected glory has been found in both the naturalistic and experimental setting.

Major theoretical approaches

Although Cialdini’s studies introduced the concept of BIRGing to the public and its relevance to social psychology, an operational definition is quite difficult to form. With such a wide range of possible examples, there is no set criteria by which to clearly recognize BIRGing. Rather, by a classical definition, it is more described as a subjective feeling possessed by one individual who seeks to gain acceptance or respect by associating themselves with the successes of others. However, 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 Lewisohn's behavioral approach, Darwin’s evolutionary approach, and to some extent even 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.

Role of deindividuation

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.

Extra real world wxamples: •Bragging about a famous relative (ex: my great, great, great grandfather was President Lincoln’s cousin) •School/Accomplishment car decal (ex: Vanderbilt University or My son is an Eagle Scout) •Wearing a team jersey after they win (ex: Wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey after the 2011 Super Bowl)


There are no real controversies involved with BIRGing because most psychologists hold this theory to be true because of the research that has been done and the evidence that has been found. Perhaps the only slight controversy is how to define and operatonalize basking in reflected glory (discussed in “Major Theoretical Approaches”). Because examples of BIRGing are so different and unique, there is no set criterion. A classical definition of BIRGing describes it as a subjective feeling possessed by one individual who seeks to gain acceptance or respect by associating themselves with the successes of others, but in recent year, advances in technology (among other domains) have challenged this classic definition. With modern technology people are not only associating with people, but with companies, brands, and organizations. This ability to associate with more than just people to gain status has created the need for a new definition of basking in reflected glory.


While an actual definition for basking in reflected glory is hard to come by, everyone partakes in BIRGing. Whether it is the sticker on a parent’s van that says “Proud parent of an Honor Roll student” or having jerseys/posters of one’s favorite sports team, humans attempt to improve their self-esteem and self-worth through basking in other’s triumphs and broadcasting their association with powerful/successful people. Basking in reflected glory has the potential to create self glory and is connected with social identity theory.

There have been psychological studies done that confirm the ideas and theories of basking in reflected glory. The first major study was done by Cialdini as he researched BIRGing in winning/losing football fans. Research by Boen et al. has also confirmed the opposite of BIRGing, cutting off reflected failure (the idea that people tend to disassociate themselves with people of lower status). Basking in reflected glory is not necessarily negative unless it is taken to the extreme and a person only views themselves in terms of their affiliations with their BIRGing group. Increases in technology have lead to an increase in the ability to bask in reflected glory; a person can now advertise their associations on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites.


  1. Aronson, W. A. (2007). Social Psychology 6th Edition. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Akert, R. M. (2010). Social Psychology (Seventh ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Bernache-Assollant, I., Lacassagne, M., & Braddock, J.(2007). Basking in Reflected Glory and Blasting: Differences in Identity-Management Strategies Between Two Groups of Highly Identified Soccer Fans. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 26(4), 381. Retrieved April 8, 2011, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1392873641).

Bernhardt, P.C., Dabbs, J.M., Fielden, J.A., & Lutter, C.D. (1998). Testosterone changes during vicarious experiences of winning and losing among fans at sporting events. Physiology and Behavior, 65, 59-62.

Burger, Jerry M. (1985). "Temporal Effects on Attributions for Academic Performances and Reflected-Glory Basking." Social Psychology Quarterly, 48(4), 330-36.

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Cialdini, R. B., Borden, R. J., Thorne, A., Walker, M. R., Freeman, S., & Sloan, L. R. (1976).Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34 366-375.

Dijkstra, J. K., Cillessen, A. H. N., Lindenberg, S. and Veenstra, R. (2010), Basking in Reflected Glory and Its Limits: Why Adolescents Hang Out With Popular Peers. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20: 942–958.

Lee, M. (1985). Self-esteem and social identity in basketball fans: A closer look at basking-in-related-glory, Journal of Sport Behavior, 8, 210-223

Snyder, C.R., Lassegard, M., & Ford, C.E. (1986). Distancing after group success and failure: Basking in reflected glory and cutting off reflected failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 382-388.