Lead author Young-Hoon Kim of the University of Pennsylvania said the study involved three U.S. groups totaling 295, college undergraduates with a mean age of 19, and one Hong Kong group of 2,780 students from four high schools.
In the first two experiments, one of the U.S. groups and the Hong Kong students took academic tests and were asked to rate and compare their own performances with those of other students at their schools. All participants completed a questionnaire to assess symptoms of depression.
In the third and fourth experiments, researchers evaluated the other two sets of U.S. undergraduates with feedback exercises that made high performers think their performance was low and low performers think their performance was high. Control groups received their scores with no feedback.
The study, published in the journal Emotion, found in all of the experiments, those who rated their own performance as much higher than it actually was were significantly more likely to feel dejected.
"Distress following excessive self-praise is likely to occur when a person's inadequacy is exposed," co-author Chi-Yue Chiu of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said in a statement.