Intellectual humility involves recognizing that there are gaps in one’s knowledge and that one’s current beliefs might be incorrect. For instance, someone might think that it is raining, but acknowledge that they have not looked outside to check and that the sun might be shining. Research on intellectual humility offers an intriguing avenue to safeguard against human errors and biases. Although it cannot eliminate them entirely, recognizing the limitations of knowledge might help to buffer people from some of their more authoritarian, dogmatic, and biased proclivities.
Although acknowledging the limits of one’s insights might be easy in low-stakes situations, people are less likely to exhibit intellectual humility when the stakes are high. For instance, people are unlikely to act in an intellectually humble manner when motivated by strong convictions or when their political, religious or ethical values seem to be challenged. Under such circumstances, many people hold tightly to existing beliefs and fail to appreciate and acknowledge the viewpoints of others. These social phenomena have troubled scholars and policymakers for decades. Consequently, interest in cultivating intellectual humility has come from multiple research areas and subfields in psychology, including social-personality, cognitive, clinical, educational, and leadership and organizational behaviour. Cumulatively, research suggests that intellectual humility can decrease polarization, extremism and susceptibility to conspiracy beliefs, increase learning and discovery, and foster scientific credibility.
Definitions and measures of intellectual humility
|Definition||Metacognitive emphasis||Approach||Aspect||Measure type|
|Multi-dimensional trait of self-oriented and other-oriented facets, characteristic way of responding to new ideas, seeking out new information, being mindful of others’ feelings, and reactions in intellectual engagements||Limits of knowledge + fallibility awareness||Multidimensional||Trait||Questionnaire|
|Acknowledging the limitations of one’s knowledge; accurately representing one’s knowledge to other people and being open to others’ input||Limits of knowledge||Multidimensional||Trait||Behavioural task|
|Absence of self-enhancement motive and egotistical bias; ability to be objective with respect to one’s beliefs||Fallibility awareness||Multidimensional||Trait||Questionnaire|
|Placing an adequate level of confidence in one’s beliefs, revising beliefs when needed and being willing to consider other people’s beliefs||Limits of knowledge + fallibility awareness||Multidimensional||Trait and State||Questionnaire|
|Having an accurate view of one’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses and being respectful of others’ ideas||Limits of knowledge + fallibility awareness||Multidimensional||Trait||Questionnaire|
|The mindset and actions associated with treating one’s own views (such as beliefs, opinions and positions) as fallible||Fallibility awareness||Multidimensional||Trait||Questionnaire|
|Recognizing that a particular personal view or belief might be fallible, accompanied by an appropriate attentiveness to limitations in the evidentiary basis of that view or belief and to one’s own limitations in obtaining and evaluating information relevant to it||Fallibility awareness||Metacognitive||State||Questionnaire|
|Same as in above, but using a trait rather than belief-specific approach||Fallibility awareness||Metacognitive||Trait||Questionnaire|
|The capacity to remain cognitively open to counterarguments, particularly when the counterargument poses some threat||Fallibility awareness||Multidimensional||State||Questionnaire|
|Recognizing the limits of one’s knowledge||Limits of knowledge||Metacognitive||State||Questionnaire, content analysis|
|A non-threatening awareness of one’s intellectual fallibility||Fallibility awareness||Multidimensional||Trait||Questionnaire|
|Having insights about the limits of one’s knowledge and regulating intellectual arrogance in relationships||Limits of knowledge||Multidimensional||Trait||Questionnaire|
|Low self-focus and little concern for status, caring most about the intrinsic value of knowledge and truth||Fallibility awareness||Multidimensional||Trait||Questionnaire|
|Willingness to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge and appreciate others’ intellectual strengths||Limits of knowledge||Multidimensional||Trait||Questionnaire|
|Openness to information that might conflict with one’s personal views and relatively weak needs to enhance one’s ego||Limits of knowledge + fallibility awareness||Multidimensional||State||Questionnaire|
Future work will be able to speak to the validity of this approach for measuring intellectual humility at scale.
|Domain||Variable||Directions||Clarity of evidence|
|Cognitive||Need for Cognition||Positive||Clear|
|Cognitive||Need for cognitive closure||Mixed||Unclear|
|Cognitive||Open-minded thinking/intellectual openness/ curiosity||Positive||Clear|
|Social||Forgiveness of others||Positive||Clear|
|Social||Political orientation||Unrelated||Somewhat clear|
|Social||Positive perception of person/disagreement||Positive||Clear|
|Social||Social desirability||Positive||Somewhat clear|
|Personality||Openness to experience||Positive||Clear|
Recognizing one’s ignorance and intellectual fallibility are core features of intellectual humility. Intellectually humbler people seem to be more curious and better liked as leaders, and tend to make more thorough, well informed decisions. Intellectually humbler people also seem to be more open to cooperating with those whose views differ from their own.
These habits of mind could be vital for confronting many of the challenges facing societies today, and beneficial to laypeople, policy makers and scientists
In the spirit of intellectual humility, we conclude by pointing out that intellectual humility is not a panacea. Although it promises to counter societal incivility and misinformation, intellectual humility is cognitively effortful and is insufficient for addressing many other societal challenges.
Moreover, a systemic approach is needed to foster intellectual humility at scale. Such an approach could involve a range of incremental changes that afford each person greater recognition of the limits of their knowledge and awareness of their fallibility. This approach to fostering intellectual humility calls for societal change in educational, scientific and business cultures: away from treating intellectual humility as a weakness and towards treating it as a core value that is celebrated and reinforced. Individual-focused interventions to boost intellectual humility are not likely to be effective in the long term without corresponding societal changes.