Loyola University Chicago

Malleability of Intellectual Humility: The Flexible Merit Standard Model

Victor Ottati

Website: http://www.luc.edu/

Abstract:

The present proposal emphasizes that intellectual humility is a malleable psychological orientation that systematically varies across situations. This is because open-mindedness is perceived to be merited or appropriate in some circumstances (e.g., when politicians compromise to negotiate a tax bill), whereas dogmatism is perceived to be merited in other circumstances (e.g., when a woman demands equal pay for equal work). On this basis, it is proposed that a variety of situational variables produce systematic variation in intellectual dogmatism, intellectual open-mindedness, and intellectual humility. These include the extent to which individuals are confronted with an intellectual task that affords a dogmatic or open-minded response, contextual reminders of virtuous dogmatism or virtuous open-mindedness, contextual cues that influence perceptions of expertise in the intellectual domain of inquiry, and the extent to which a communication source advocates a position that is in agreement with the individual’s personal attitude toward the issue. Effects of this nature are conceptualized in terms of the Flexible Merit Standard Model, an over-arching theoretical conceptualization that accounts for the malleable nature of intellectual dogmatism, intellectual open-mindedness, and intellectual humility.

A clear example of this approach can be found in the presently proposed experiments that test the Incidental Priming Hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, historical reminders of virtuous dogmatism increase dogmatism (and reduce open-mindedness) when individuals subsequently consider a separate issue that merits an open-minded response. In contrast, historical reminders of virtuous open-mindedness increase open-mindedness (and reduce dogmatism) when individuals subsequently consider a separate issue of this nature. To test this hypothesis, participants are initially reminded of a historical example of virtuous dogmatism

(e.g., Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus) or a historical example of virtuous open-mindedness (e.g., a speech by a peace advocate promoting the value of political tolerance). Then, as part of an ostensibly separate experiment, participants are presented with a situation in which open-minded thinking is clearly merited and virtuous. In this subsequent situation, it is predicted that participants previously reminded of virtuous dogmatism will adopt a relatively dogmatic (or less open-minded) cognitive orientation. In contrast, it is predicted that participants previously reminded of virtuous open-mindedness will adopt a relatively open-minded (or less dogmatic) cognitive orientation. Because the subsequent situation clearly merits an open-minded response, evidence of this “incidental priming effect” would indicate that historical reminders produce systematic variation in intellectual humility (virtuous open-mindedness).

The Flexible Merit Standard Model predicts that analogous effects are elicited by other situational cues (e.g., the extent to which a communication is in agreement with the individual’s personal attitude toward the issue, contextual cues that influence perceptions of expertise in the intellectual domain of inquiry). In total, eleven studies are proposed to test predictions generated on the basis of the Flexible Merit Standard Model. These experiments seek to demonstrate that intellectual dogmatism, open-mindedness, and humility are not static unchanging characteristics of an individual. On the contrary, these experiments will document that these intellectual orientations are malleable, and systematically vary across situations.