Pride: A Sin or an Evolutionary Survival Mechanism?

by | Aug 21, 2018


Lookin’ good!

The Seven Deadly Sins are:

  • Pride
  • Envy
  • Gluttony
  • Lust
  • Anger
  • Greed and
  • Sloth

Of these sins, theologians and scholars often single out pride as the greatest of the sins, the root of all evil and the beginning of sin. The Bible says that pride comes before the destruction or downfall of a person and that God opposes the proud.

New research out of University of Montreal and UCSB suggests that maybe pride is not a sin. It actually might be an evolutionary survival mechanism. In the paper, the authors claim that pride leads us to balance societal values vs. personal values which leads to greater “mutual assistance” among members of groups which has been shown to confer a reproductive advantage.

As reported by The Current, from UCSB , lead author of the study Daniel Sznycer explained: “People evolved to have a selfish streak, but they also needed a contrary pull toward acts that would make others value them in a world without soup kitchens, police, hospitals or insurance, [and] the feeling of pride is an internal reward that draws us towards such acts.”

How does this work? Research has found that we feel pride about things that our own society values. When we graduate from college, get a promotion at work or volunteer for charity we likely feel pride as these all represent things our society values.  From the paper: “the feeling of pride is an internal signal of the estimated social valuation payoff—a payoff that can motivate, for example, status-seeking behavior.” 

This means that pride causes you to consider others’ views – what society values – in making decisions. According to Daniel Sznycer, “one implication of this theory is that those around you benefit, too, as a side effect of your pursuing actions they value.  Thus, pride is more a win-win than it is a sin.” 

Pride appears to be a universal human trait. Building on previous studies conducted in industrialized nations, the researchers studied pride in ten different small-scale societies in non-industrialized countries.


They found that “despite widely varying languages, cultures, and subsistence modes, pride in each community closely tracked the valuation of audiences locally.” In other words, whether living in advanced, industrialized societies or more basic, non-industrialized communities, people’s feelings of pride closely track their societies’ valued actions.

Be free! Go forth and feel pride without guilt! Have a nice Tuesday!


  1. I found your comment interesting so I looked up original Latin word for word pride in the contents of deadly sin and it is “superbia”. I also looked it up in Croatian and it is “ohol” and it translates to arrogant, overbearing, stuck up, conceited but also proud in English. Croatian and Bosnian language also have a word “ponos” which would translate much better to the English word pride but who ever translated word “superbia” from Latin in the context of deadly sin choose word “ohol” instead.

  2. With this topic, we quickly leave the scientific and enter the theological. Pride can be both a sin and an evolutionary advantage. Sins are often things that give us advantages at the expense of others. Capacity for violence (Anger) or ability to horde the food supply (gluttony) can work to our evolutionary advantage. In fact, I’d argue that a spiffy, modern-day definition of sin might be actions that are evolutionary advantages taken at the expense of others. Since sin is often defined as putting your own needs ahead of others (including God), the really interesting question becomes, then, is there any such evolutionary advantage that’s NOT a sin ? Conversely, if we are only acting out our evolutionary destiny, is anything really a sin? Be careful, or each of us will be absolved of everything!

  3. From
    1 : the quality or state of being proud: such as
    a : inordinate self-esteem : conceit
    b : a reasonable or justifiable self-respect
    c : delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship parental pride
    2 : proud or disdainful behavior or treatment : disdain

    It seems like there’s a couple different types of pride. One is taking delight in what has been accomplished, or an a child, or a country. The other kind is proud or disdainful behavior, which is thinking that you’re better than other people. So I would say that although the English language does not have two different words for these two different things, one is good, like this blog post highlights. The other one, is potentially very harmful.

    • Eva – great point. In researching this topic I came across the following from one of my favorite bloggers on types of pride (the positive and negative):


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