4 Benefits of Intellectual Humility and How It Makes Us Better People
Liberals and Conservatives. Atheists and the deeply religious. Pro-life and pro-choice. Millenials and Baby Boomers.
There’s a reason why a lot of reporters say the US is a deeply divided nation. You can’t turn on the TV or read an article that doesn’t highlight some debate or draw lines in the sand between two groups of people.
In a time where arguments are commonplace and calm discussions are rare, a lot of people are asking:
“How can we make this better?”
Research says we may find an unlikely answer in a personality trait known as intellectual humility.
4 Benefits of Being Intellectually Humble
While it certainly doesn’t get a lot of press, psychologists are beginning to find how the benefits of intellectual humility not only make us better people, but may even make us more civil during issues of contention.
A new study from Duke University set out to measure people’s humility through a series of 4 different experiments.
One such experiment had individuals read essays supporting or opposing religion. They were then asked to rate the author.
When people who scored higher on intellectual arrogance read essays that were counter to their beliefs, they rated authors lower in morality, honesty, competence and warmth. But those who scored high in humility had the following characteristics:
1. Less Judgment – People higher in intellectual humility were less likely to judge someone’s character based on their views.
2. Better Evaluation of Information – They could better assess the quality of evidence provided, and also more able to identify strong and weak arguments.
3. Better Decision Making – When you can better account for your personal opinions and bias, you are less likely to disregard relevant information. Thus your decisions are more accurate and more informed.
The researchers offer an example of how this plays out in the real world:
If you’re sitting around a table at a meeting and the boss is very low in intellectual humility, he or she isn’t going to listen to other people’s suggestions.
Yet we know that good leadership requires broadness of perspective and taking as many perspectives into account as possible.
And companies like Google are taking notice, and beginning to look for new hires that have this trait.
4. Better Learners – While not a part of the study from Duke, researchers from UC Davis have found that intellectually humble people have more long term motivation to learn. This is in contrast to people who have have short term motivation to “look smart”.
The researchers also believe that one of the ways we may be able to cultivate and teach intellectual humility is by fostering a growth mindset.
Are Liberals or Conservatives More Intellectually Humble?
Would you guess that liberals or conservatives are more intellectually humble? How about the religious or not so religious?
Get ready for some humble pie, because the team at Duke found no difference between these groups. Researcher Mark Leary says that may surprise a lot of people:
There are stereotypes about conservatives and religiously conservative people being less intellectually humble about their beliefs.
We didn’t find a shred of evidence to support that.
That means that no matter your political affiliation or religious beliefs, people on each side are just as likely to be intellectually humble. Or as Leary points out, just as arrogant:
If you think about what’s been wrong in Washington for a long time, it’s a whole lot of people who are very intellectually arrogant about the positions they have, on both sides of the aisle.
How Intellectual Humility Could Make Us More Civil
It’s not that humble people aren’t steadfast in their beliefs. They just don’t automatically take the position that they’re right and you’re wrong. It’s about something else:
Intellectually humble people can have strong beliefs, but recognize their fallibility, and are willing to be proven wrong on matters large and small.
In common parlance, it resembles open-mindedness.
Being open minded when debating a topic changes the nature of our interaction. Instead of disregarding someone’s views out of hand, you give them a level of respect by hearing them out. Making them less defensive.
In contrast, those who are intellectually arrogant may very well act superior. Their behavior will make others feel judged, humiliated. It can be seen as challenge to someone’s intelligence, abilities, or character.
Ultimately, this causes people to dig in. They will defend their position more strongly, will be less open to different points of view, and will cause a discussion spin out of control. And conversation becomes unproductive.
Being Humble Makes Us Better
Bringing a more humble perspective to the table could just make us better, kinder human beings. And the researchers agree:
Not being afraid of being wrong – that’s a value, and I think it is a value we could promote.
I think if everyone was a bit more intellectually humble we’d all get along better, we’d be less frustrated with each other.
In today’s climate of polarized issues, intellectual humility seems to be a rare thing to possess. It requires us to entertain the idea that we might be wrong, that we don’t have all the information, and we’re okay with our views being challenged.
But it could be exactly the trait we need more of.
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