Stanford University

Intellectual Humility and Beliefs About Intelligence

Carol Dweck



Intellectual humility is regarded as highly important by leaders in business, academia, public service, and other fields. Yet, despite its apparent importance, social science has very little to say about the nature and consequences of intellectual humility. We do not know what causes intellectual humility, and we therefore do not know how to promote it. However, we propose that people’s beliefs about the malleability of intelligence might be an important cause of intellectual humility and its related outcomes. Our research will investigate this promising association and examine some of the behavioral consequences of having high and low intellectual humility. We predict that intellectual humility is enhanced by an incremental belief that intelligence is a malleable trait that can be cultivated and developed. With this mindset, intelligence is perceived as something that everyone can attain through hard work and experience. In contrast, we predict that intellectual humility is sabotaged by an entity belief that intelligence is a fixed trait that cannot be developed. This mindset promotes the perception that some people have superior intellectual abilities compared to others. Consequently, an entity belief can foster feelings of intellectual arrogance and defensiveness, both of which are not conducive to intellectual humility. We thus predict that having an entity belief about intelligence leads to low intellectual humility and having an incremental belief about intelligence leads to high intellectual humility. We will test these predictions in six studies conducted with diverse groups of people, including high school and college students, company employees and community adults. Our research will also examine whether having an incremental belief about intelligence causes a variety of positive behaviors, and, importantly, whether intellectual humility mediates these associations. To elaborate, we will investigate whether an incremental belief and intellectual humility increase people’s willingness to admit and correct their intellectual mistakes, decrease how much people derogate the intelligence of others, and increase people’s tendency to be open-minded and civil when responding to disagreements about social and political issues. If successful, this research will reveal an important cause of intellectual humility and show that intervening at the level of people’s beliefs about intelligence may increase intellectual humility and its associated positive behaviors. In addition to advancing our theoretical understanding of intellectual humility and paving the way for further study in this area, this research has the potential to inform education and organizational leadership practice, and promote evidence-based progress in these important fields.