Michigan State University

Neural, Cognitive, and Social Contributions to the Development of Intellectual Humility

Judith H. Danovitch, Jason S. Moser

Website: http://www.osp.msu.edu


An accurate awareness of what you do and do not know, a desire to seek out answers, and a willingness to accept new evidence are three characteristics of intellectually humble individuals. Children express each of these characteristics, to a greater or lesser degree, by age 5 and their expression of these traits continues to develop over the elementary school years. The proposed project explores potential neural, cognitive, and social sources of variability in children’s intellectual humility as a means of understanding the nature of intellectual humility. This is the first project to take a comprehensive, multi-level approach to understanding what underlies individual differences in intellectual humility in children and adults, and what factors support or impede the development of intellectual humility.Participants will include 120 boys and girls ages 5 through 7, as this is a period of dramatic change – but also of substantial variability – in terms of behaviors associated with intellectual humility. Intellectual humility will be measured in terms of: 1) children’s evaluation of their existing knowledge, 2) children’s propensity towards seeking advice from others, and 3) children’s willingness to revise their beliefs in light of new evidence.

This project will inform questions about the nature of intellectual humility by examining how factors ranging from brain activity to social inpu, relate to the development of intellectual humility in children. Specifically, EEG and behavioral data will be collected to examine to what extent developmental and individual differences in intellectual humility are related to differences in children’s brain responses to errors, their existing knowledge and capacity to learn, and their understanding of other people’s minds. Data will also be collected from parents to investigate whether children’s expression of intellectual humility is related to their parents’ expression of intellectually humble behaviors and traits, as well as their parents’ beliefs about the value of intellectual humility.

The results of the proposed study have theoretical implications for understanding the nature of intellectual humility in terms of its origins and trait-like properties, and practical implications for improving health and education by better understanding how to support the development of intellectual humility. For example, if the results suggest that parent behavior and beliefs play an important role in children’s intellectual humility, then educating parents about the value of intellectual humility may be an effective means of enabling children to demonstrate more intellectual humility at an earlier age. Results will be disseminated to other researchers via conference presentations and manuscripts and to community members and the general public via a project website, newsletters, press releases, and a public presentation. The results will promote future research by providing methods for measuring intellectual humility and suggesting what types of experiences are most likely to have a positive impact on intellectual humility in children and adults. In addition, our findings will benefit individuals and organizations with a wide range of goals, including improving education, health, and wellbeing, and fostering understanding between people with disparate beliefs.