University of Washington

Intellectual Humility Across Childhood in Three Cultures

Kristina R. Olson



In this project we investigate the development of important markers of intellectual humility in young children in three cultures (the United States, Portugal, and China). In particular, we focus on two major areas: children’s understanding of the limits of their knowledge and children’s openness to new information from others. We investigate three aspects of children’s understanding of the limits of their knowledge: the degree to which they understand that they do not know everything, their understanding that no one knows everything, and their understanding of the limits of the cognitive processes by which new knowledge is learned. In addition, we investigate three markers of children’s openness to new information: their willingness to listen to others in general, their willingness to actively seeking out new knowledge, and their willingness to re-evaluate their own knowledge in light of other information. We investigate these markers developmentally to better understand how children think about their own knowledge as well as how they mitigate disputes between their own knowledge and the knowledge of others throughout development. On the one hand, children are constantly updating their knowledge as indicated by how much new information they are constantly learning, suggesting some tendency toward openness. Yet, on the other hand, children are notoriously egocentric, feeling they are unusually knowledgeable already. Our work will investigate how these two pieces fit together and align with the various pieces required of an intellectually humble agent. Additionally, a cross-cultural component will be included in order to better understand whether the developmental trajectory outlined by studies in the United States, is representative of a more global trajectory of markers of intellectual humility or if American children are unique in their profile. China and Portugal were selected as comparisons to the United States in order to test whether potential differences in the developmental trajectories of intellectual humility can be explained by the historical divide of Eastern (China) vs. Western cultures (Portugal, U.S.) or between individualistic (U.S.) vs. collectivist cultures (Portugal, China). Toward this goal, we plan to conduct several empirical studies with children aged 4-14 years old. A first paper will report the initial findings of studies conducted in the United States— the first truly developmental study of its kind. The second paper will employ the most effective of these studies in developmental populations in the United States, Portugal and China for clear comparison. We will strive to share our results both with academics in our lab (i.e., via our lab conference), academics in the U.S. and Europe (i.e., at conferences, in papers) as well as the general public (i.e., in blogs, press releases, newsletters). In these we hope that our discoveries will be illuminating for the greatest number of people.