The first experiment involved 200 Dutch undergraduate students assigned to pretend to be part of a job interview. Using a written survey, half the volunteers were asked to imagine that an interviewer asked them to share a story about a personal or professional success. They were then asked: “What would be your strategy for how to share and describe this success, in a way that would make them think very positively about you?"
On a scale of 1 to 7, the interviewees responded to the comments “I would mention my struggles and efforts” and “I would mention my talent and abilities”.
The other half were assigned to be mock interviewers, and were given the same questions, but switched to reflect how they would prefer to hear someone share a story rather than how they would do it themselves.
The next experiment – an online survey – used the same questions but adapted them to a hypothetical a dating situation (the best way to tell the story to get a second date) for a group of 201 US adults. Finally, the third experiment largely replicated the first, but in a group of 202 US adults, recruited online.
Across all three experiments, participants assigned to hear a hypothetical story reported a desire to hear about the sharer’s effort and work, yet those who were assigned to share chose instead to emphasize their talents, "seem[ing] not to fully anticipate" the importance of what they have left out.
Steinmetz writes that future work will investigate how different cultures – like non-Western nations without the Protestant work ethic – prefer to portray success.