Basking in Reflected Glory Definition
Basking in reflected glory, also known as BIRGing, refers to the tendency of individuals to associate themselves with the successful, the famous, or the celebrated. A baseball fan’s use of the inclusive term we to describe the victory of his or her favorite team (as in “We won”) is an example of BIRGing. Mentioning that one has taken a class taught by a Nobel Prize winner is also an example of basking in reflected glory. Other examples include recounting the story of a chance encounter with a celebrity, such as sitting next to them on a plane or dining at the same restaurant, and mentioning that one is related to a famous politician or musician. Basking in reflected glory need not be limited to verbal associations (e.g., people are more likely to wear clothing affiliated with a winning team than a losing team).
Basking in Reflected Glory Background and History
Basking in reflected glory was first scientifically investigated in the mid-1970s by a team of researchers headed by Dr. Robert Cialdini. According to their research, after a winning football game, not only were college football fans more likely to wear clothing that endorsed the football team, they were more likely to use the pronoun we to describe the events of the game as compared to fans after a losing football game. In the case of a loss, college students distanced themselves from the football team, a tendency called cutting off reflected failure (CORFing). In the case of a team loss, the fans were less likely to wear clothing such as hats and T-shirts endorsing the team, and, when asked to describe the events of the game, they were more likely to use the pronoun they to describe the events (e.g., “They blew it”).
Basking in reflected glory has also been demonstrated outside the sports domain. For instance, people in Belgium who endorsed a political party that swept the national elections were more likely to display posters and lawn signs that endorsed their political part for a longer duration after an election than were those who endorsed the losing party. This suggests that people who place bumper stickers on their cars endorsing their preferred political party or candidate may be more likely to leave the sticker on the car after a win than a loss.
Basking in reflected glory is one of many indirect impression management tactics. When people engage in impression management, they emphasize certain qualities that they think will make the best impression on their audience. For instance, when a man on a date tries to impress his date (e.g., by mentioning his success in the workplace), he is trying to create the impression that he would be a good provider and therefore a good long-term partner. Similarly, a computer programmer trying to impress a prospective employer may mention that a computer program she developed won a prestigious reward. These are examples of a direct impression management tactic. Indirect impression management tactics such as BIRGing involve emphasizing or de-emphasizing connections with others. For instance, in an attempt to convey the impression he would be a good long-term partner, that same man on a date may BIRG by emphasizing how close he is to his brother who is happily married. And in an attempt to covey competence, the computer programmer may BIRG by mentioning that she once worked with a celebrated computer programmer. So, individuals BIRG in an attempt to make themselves look better by associating themselves with the glorious rather than by directly boasting of their own gloriousness.
Basking in reflected glory serves to enhance people’s public image or self-esteem. However, the situations in which people BIRG vary, and certain situations may lead individuals to BIRG more. Because BIRGing is intended to enhance an individual’s self-esteem, people are more likely to engage in basking in reflected glory when their public self-image is threatened. For instance, people who receive feedback that they performed poorly on a test are more likely to engage in BIRGing than are people who receive feedback that they did well. However, the type of association people emphasize may vary. That is, if a person fails on a test of math ability, that person is more likely to emphasize his or her connection with an individual who is good at something other than math if given the option between basking in reflected glory of a math expert or sports expert. People do this because it makes them feel better to emphasize an association with a celebrated other; after all, it is something positive about themselves.
The connections people emphasize between themselves and others when they BIRG are often trivial connections (e.g., being a fan of a successful team, a member of a winning political party, or the relative of someone who met someone famous). It brings to light a positive yet trivial connection between the individual and the celebrity. However, these connections need not be trivial, and in some cases, basking in reflected glory may occur when the connections are strong (e.g., parents who place “my child is an honor’s student” bumper stickers on their cars are BIRGing).
- Cialdini, R. B., Borden, R., Thorne, A., Walker, M., Freeman, S., & Sloane, L. T. (1976). Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 366-375.