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Intellectual Humility: The Elusive Virtue

Mark Alfano, Daniel Lapsely, Paul Stey

Website: http://www.nd.edu

Abstract:

Many traits, such as aggression and extraversion, are obtrusive. An aggressive person tends to engage in characteristic activities, and is willing to admit to his own aggressiveness if it is framed in a neutral or positive way; likewise for a non-aggressive person. An outgoing person tends to engage in characteristic activities, and is willing to admit to her own extraversion if it is framed in a neutral or positive way; likewise for a shy person.Other traits of character, such as humility and its intellectual counterparts, are elusive. If he thinks someone is watching and evaluating, an intellectually vain person will tend to engage in activities that make him seem intellectually humble, and will not be willing to admit to his vanity. If she thinks someone is watching and evaluating, an IH person will tend to engage in quite similar activities, and may even hesitate to attribute IH to herself. This leads to a kind of paradox: the more intellectually humble you are, the less you will be inclined to mention or insist on your own intellectual humility.

To reach an empirically usable and conceptually adequate conception of intellectual humility, we will develop three measures: explicit, implicit, and behavioral measures of intellectual humility. The explicit measure uses the standard self-report paradigm from personality psychology, in which participants are prompted to agree or disagree with a series of statements about themselves, and then the pattern of their responses is factor- analyzed. Since intellectual humility is elusive, we doubt that the explicit measure suffices on its own. For the implicit measure of intellectual humility, we will develop a new implicit association test (IAT) that measures participants’ automatic associations between their self-concepts on the one hand, and the concepts of intellectual humility, intellectual arrogance, and intellectual diffidence on the other hand. Because it cannot be gamed as easily as a self-report scale, we expect this to provide a better perspective on IH. The behavioral measure is born of the idea that intellectually humble people react in characteristic ways to disagreement. They treat disagreement neither as a threat nor as a decisive reason to revise their beliefs, but as a reason to reinvestigate the evidence for their beliefs. They will tend to revise, therefore, when and only when their initial belief was incorrect or unsupported. To operationalize this idea, we will develop a series of questions that tend to provoke fallacious reasoning; participants will answer these questions, then be offered a chance to revise in light of peer disagreement. Those who rarely revise, even when they are wrong, will be designated intellectually arrogant; those who always revise, even when they are right, will be designated intellectually diffident; only those who revise towards the truth will be designated intellectually humble.

These scales will shed light from multiple perspectives on a given person’s intellectual humility. We hypothesize that the IAT measure will be a stronger predictor of the behavioral measure than the explicit measure, and that the IAT will moderate the predictive power of the behavioral measure.