The Science of Intellectual Humility

Project Leader: Dr. Justin L. Barrett
Post-Doctoral Researchers: Dr. Ian Church, Dr. Peter Samuelson
Doctoral Student Researchers: Matt Jarvinen, Tom Paulus
Thrive Center Staff: Rebecca Sok, Julia Stewart
Project Dates: July 1, 2012 – June 20, 2015
Funded By: The John Templeton Foundation at $5.3 million

Read the Project White Paper

What does it mean to be intellectually humble and how can intellectual humility be encouraged?  This question is the subject of the Thrive Center’s John Templeton Foundation funded project, “The Science of Intellectual Humility,” which runs from 2012 to 2015. Two postdoctoral researchers and two doctoral student researchers are examining specific questions surrounding intellectual humility (IH) such as:

  • What is the “folk” understanding of intellectual humility? What is the nature of intellectual virtues?
  • What role does trust play in the development of intellectual humility in children?
  • What is the interface between ethics and epistemology?

Although humility has received significant attention, its distinctively intellectual side needs much further exploration. Intellectual humility concerns how we come to hold and retain our beliefs. It is constituted by a state of openness to new ideas, receptivity to new sources of evidence and the implications of that evidence, and willingness to revise even deeply held beliefs in the face of compelling reasons. The project’s ultimate goal is to inform work in philosophy, theology, and clinical psychology in ways that will lead to greater openness, more civil discourse, and flourishing in human relationships. During the first year of work on this project, our research team produced a White Paper as part of an initial volume of research. The White Paper was used to help guide other leading scientists—as well as theologians, traditional philosophers, and experimental philosophers—who were proposing intellectual humility research projects in a response to a request for proposals. The entire body of research in intellectual humility developed under this grant is part of an effort to devote more attention to the subject of intellectual humility. Fuller has selected 18 research teams to receive awards totaling nearly $4 million from the grant. These teams will conduct scientific research on the nature, implications, and ultimate causes of intellectual humility and arrogance, resulting in a body of literature and two conferences that will promote dialogue and collaboration on the topic This project supports:

  • Research on under-explored areas in the psychology and evolution of intellectual humility/arrogance;
  • Critical engagement between the cognitive and evolutionary sides;
  • Dissemination of research in the field in order to advance its philosophical and theological significance.
In one of our investigations, we surveyed (through the internet) people from all walks of life and found that there are three dimensions to intellectual humility in the “folk” conception:  an intellectual dimension (smart, curious, love of learning, inquisitive); a humble dimension (doesn’t brag, not a show-off); and a civil dimension (listens to others, kind, considerate, respectful).

Intellectual humility has to do with understanding that you don’t know everything, that there is more to learn, that you don’t use your knowledge or expertise as an advantage over others, and that, in discussions with others, you are respectful, listening closely to what the other has to say in order to learn something. Our project has funded investigations in all of these areas. Some are looking to create a measurement of intellectual humility. Some are looking at our cognitive systems in order to see if our normal patterns of thought produce or inhibit intellectual humility. Some are interested in how children practice intellectual humility (or don’t) and how we might develop this trait. Others are looking at how knowledge is used and acquired in social situations. Still others are interested in using intellectual humility to promote better discourse between disagreeing parties.

We operate under the assumption that intellectual humility is a good—the possession of which makes you a better person, and the practice of which makes for a better, more civil society. If we can learn how our natural ways of thinking either help or hinder this virtue, we can know how to best promote it. If we learn how it plays out in a child’s cognitive development, we can teach children how to practice it. If we can learn how people think and react in situations of disagreement, we can use intellectual humility to enhance civil discourse. Having a good grasp of the limits of your own knowledge and a curiosity and love of learning make for a fulfilling life.  Having a respect for the knowledge and opinions of others, and an attitude of open-mindedness, will help society move toward the best solutions to vexing problems. These and other aspects of intellectual humility help us reach for the goal of human flourishing—for all people.

Intellectual humility is a virtue of the mind. The aim or telos of these kinds of virtues could roughly be described as “right thinking.” When most people think of intellectual humility specifically, they are likely to think of something akin to open-mindedness, or a person’s ability to receive input that contradicts their existing opinions or cognitive schemas in some way. There is more to intellectual humility than this, but it’s good way to start thinking about it. Intellectual humility is important for many reasons; but anyone who wonders why we need intellectual humility need only look at the deeply polarized state of political discourse in this country. Why are our disagreements so sharp? Surely a little intellectual humility must have some role in helping us formulate compromises, political and otherwise. Intellectual humility is informed by the less “intellectual” or cognitive parts of our minds. That is, there are many good reasons for us to be thinking about the way that our intellectual life, the habits of our minds, are formed by the emotional and relational aspects of our experience that we’re not necessarily always consciously aware of.

Our sense is that relational and emotional problems shape the way that intellectual processes unfold, either viciously or virtuously. This is one concept that we have been researching in particular. What we are currently trying to discover is whether or not we can demonstrate that a person’s attachment/relational style aligns with their epistemic style—meaning, is a person who has a history of secure attachments to others more likely to be able to assimilate new information in a way that is virtuous? Demonstrating a relational aspect to intellectual humility like this could go a long way to helping us understand what’s happening in these intractable disagreements and would also help us understand what we need to start paying attention to if cultivating these kinds of virtues in our society is something we hope to do—which we hope it is.

What are some ways intellectual humility will be important to philosophy? Recent work in philosophy has highlighted the theoretical importance of intellectual humility in the context of the broader subject of “virtue epistemology.” Virtue epistemology focuses on the process by which beliefs are formed, looking specifically at whether or not the belief was formed by an intellectually virtuous knower. Some have claimed that intellectual humility is among these core intellectual virtues. In this way, intellectual humility can be seen as foundational to knowledge itself. What is more, intellectual humility seems incompatible with the notion that one might fairly stick to his or her guns (intellectually speaking) when faced with others who are equally intelligent and well informed, but who hold opposing, even incompatible views. And yet, while sticking to your guns and being intellectually humble seem incompatible, even paradigmatically intellectually humble individuals sometimes (quite justifiably) maintain their positions in the face of such disagreement.  The epistemic import of peer disagreement is a hot topic in contemporary epistemology and directly relevant to intellectual humility (and vice versa).

The St Louis portion of the IH initiatives is meant to explore the key concepts as well as the philosophical and theological issues that undergird (and are informed by) the empirical research happening at Fuller. View “The Philosophy and Theology of Intellectual Humility” project website:

What are some ways intellectual humility will be important to psychology? Well, we could begin our investigation into intellectual humility by recognizing it as the opposite of intellectual arrogance for we have evidence that this vice is deeply rooted in human psychology.

First, human beings are notoriously (and apparently naturally) disposed to overestimate their intellectual strengths and underestimate their weaknesses; indeed, the evidence is clear that there is a strong tendency even to underestimate our liability to such biases! Do these biases show a natural tendency away from intellectual humility? Furthermore, we are susceptible to all sorts of biases that make intellectual humility difficult. For example, we tend to favor evidence or data received early in our inquiries (primacy bias) and we tend to discount the weight of evidence that counts against hypotheses we endorse (confirmation bias).

Second, evolutionary psychologists have offered some intriguing arguments that these dispositions are embedded within our cognitive architecture in ways that can systematically lead us to biased thinking, in some cases for adaptive reasons. Does this mean that intellectual arrogance is both an epistemic vice and a “biological virtue”?

Third, some clinicians have argued that intellectual arrogance is necessary for maintaining mental health. The intellectually humble, who see themselves and their condition with unmitigated clarity, are more susceptible to forms of depression, for example.  Presumably, however, viewing intellectual humility merely as the opposite of intellectual arrogance gives us an incomplete picture.  For example, evidence indicates correlations between intellectual humility and important morally salient traits such as a willingness to forgive others, a lack of aggression, and helpfulness. Moreover, psychologists have discovered traits and behaviors associated with intellectual humility that facilitate learning, personal growth, and social interaction. What other positive, or negative, correlations exist between intellectual humility and other aspects of human flourishing?

Intellectual Humility Grants

One team of researches at one institution can only do so much and can only bring so much expertise and perspective to the table. Issuing sub-grants allows us to enfold and empower top scholars from around the world to help us all better develop and conduct cross-culturally valid research with the greatest potential impact.

Primary Investigator: Steven Sloman

Abstract: People often hold extreme political attitudes about complex policies despite knowing less about those policies than they think they do. This is called the illusion of explanatory depth and we believe it contributes to political polarization. In previous work, we have found that asking people to provide detailed causal explanations for policies undermines the illusion, leads to more moderate attitudes, and reduces willingness to donate to relevant political advocacy groups. Here, we propose four types of studies to investigate the causes of the illusion, what it takes to puncture it, and how it is relevant in the political world.First, we ask what kinds of policies are most susceptible to the illusion. We hypothesize that policies that are attractive because of their desired consequences (like military intervention) will be more susceptible to the illusion than policies whose favor depends less on what outcomes the policy will deliver and more on protected values, basic notions of right and wrong (like abortion). We also plan to compare policies that vary in their partisan political appeal and in their complexity.Second, we ask what kind of person is most susceptible to the illusion. We focus on the effects of expertise, cognitive style (are more reflective people less susceptible?), and age.Third, we focus on the cognitive processes responsible for the illusion. Does the greater intellectual humility induced by causal explanation affect people’s awareness of their own level of knowledge broadly or does is it restricted to the particular issues explained? Does the illusion occur because we mistake our own personal knowledge for knowledge that we are able to access in our community? Is the effect limited to causal explanation or does it occur for other kinds of explanation, like logical justification? We also propose to investigate how puncturing the illusion affects other attributes of intellectual humility like how people treat evidence and the labels we are willing to use to refer to policies.

Finally, we propose research on the applicability of our findings. Can we use it to increase intellectual humility in a real political conflict? Can we eliminate the reactivity that one might expect when an interested party requests an explanation? Does the effect carry over time long enough to allow it to be effective? Can causal explanation be used to obtain other beneficial effects like greater willingness to compromise and does it lead to better outcomes when groups are choosing through deliberation? Does puncturing the illusion paralyze people with uncertainty so that they are unwilling to act?

We hope through this research to reveal the nature of the cognitive and social processes by which knowledge gets deployed and how it supports judgment. In the course of this, we hope to help specify the role and value of intellectual humility and arrogance in social discourse.


Primary Investigators: Thomas Allen Nadelhoffer, Jen Cole Wright

Abstract: Intellectual humility is treated as a virtue in most areas. Yet, is humility specifically about moral beliefs, actions, and attributes a virtue? Here, the answer is less clear. We often treat as moral heroes people who confidently hold to their vision of moral rights and duties in the face of strong opposition. Is such steadfast conviction consistent with, or in tension with, humility? Answering this type of question requires a multi-pronged approach.

Our first goal is to clarify the nature of moral humility. In accomplishing this goal, we will explore humility as a psychological construct and examine the relationship between humility and other psychological constructs (e.g., conviction and arrogance), commitments/values (e.g., meta- ethical stance), and personality traits and the situational and socio-cultural factors that might influence its expression. We will achieve this by first constructing a robust scale for moral humility (along with other facets of humility). This will allow us to identify empirically the conceptual structure of humility and also examine its relationship to a variety of other characteristics of humble people. In addition, we will closely examine the “folk understanding” of moral humility in adults, along with the development of this understanding in children and adolescents.

Our second goal is to examine the behaviors and judgments associated with moral humility. That is, we seek to better understand what morally humble people do, how they behave, how they make judgments, etc. Are humble people more or less steadfast in their moral beliefs? Are they more or less tolerant of divergent beliefs and practices? Are they more or less open-minded to opposing arguments? Our goal is to use our new humility scale to explore these questions. We will also examine other people’s expectations of, and responses to, morally humble individuals. Do people expect morally humble people to behave differently than non-humble people—and, if so, in what ways? Do these expectations change with context and over time—e.g., are children’s expectations different from those of adults? Finally, do people respond differently to the behaviors, opinions, requests of people they view to be morally humble? We will explore these questions in a variety of ways (detailed in the objectives below).

Third, humility has been defined as “an inclination to keep one’s accomplishments, traits, and so on in unexaggerated perspective, even if stimulated to exaggerate” (Richards, 1992, pg. 8). So, another one of our goals is to test this assumption by investigating whether people who score high in moral humility are indeed inclined to downplay (relative to others) their accomplishments and traits and to avoid seeking public recognition and/or praise for their “good deeds.” In addition, we will examine people’s expectations in this regard. For instance, do people expect morally humble individuals to downplay their morally-relevant accomplishments and/or to shy away from receiving public recognition/praise for them? Once again, does this expectation change over time? These are questions to be explored.

Primary Investigator: David Alan Dunning

Abstract: The proposed research begins with the premise that people are largely unaware of the boundary line where their knowledge ends and their ignorance begins. As a consequence, they frequently step into error with little awareness of it. They commit intellectual arrogance, holding false beliefs with a confidence and tenacity that is unwarranted.

Thus, the main challenge of an intellectually humble life is to guard against stepping over that line by striving to avoid the error in the first place.

In the proposal, I study cognitive habits that either can hasten or prevent people from stepping into unrecognized error. The research literature on schizophrenic delusion provides some well-researched clues about what those habits may be. Schizophrenia spectrum patients who suffer from delusions tend to display two cognitive habits that differ from peers who resist delusion. First, they jump to conclusions (showing a JTC bias), reaching confident judgments and decisions quickly and prematurely, based on scant evidence. Second, they refuse to revise their initial judgments in the face of disconfirming evidence (a bias against disconfirming evidence, or BADE).

In 11 studies, I intend to examine JTC and BADE biases in the general population, with three aims in mind. First, I examine whether JTC and BADE biases predict who is most likely to commit unwitting reasoning errors, ones that they hold with confidence. Will those exhibiting these biases be the ones who let intuitive impulses cause them to err on reasoning questions, or let their everyday knowledge interfere with strict logical reasoning? Will those exhibiting JTC and BADE biases be most likely to be influenced by irrelevant “anchors” in their environments, and most likely to influenced too much by the first few pieces of information they receive? Will those exhibiting these biases show the greatest likelihood of claiming knowledge of topics they can no nothing about because these topics do not exist? Will they harbor beliefs that are implausible or impossible, much like those who suffer from schizophrenic delusion do?

Second, I will examine whether individuals exhibiting JTC and BADE biases will be the ones most resistant to advice and correction from other people. Will they discount input from others, thus causing their judgments to decrease in accuracy? Will they resist feedback about the correct answer to difficult reasoning problems?

Third, I will ask whether people can be trained to avoid these biases. Adapting materials currently used to improve the reasoning of schizophrenia patients, we will create training programs aimed at prompting the general public to avoid making snap judgments, as well as to give weight to disconfirming evidence. Will training people toward better intellectual habits help them lead more intellectually humble lives, in which they reach more reasonable judgments because they are more successful at avoiding error?

Taken together, the proposed research aims at exposing general reasoning habits that lead toward error and away from intellectual humility. It aims at adding to the psychological research literature on self-knowledge and reasoning, providing practitioners with potential innovative strategies they can use to improve human reasoning.

Primary Investigators: Lasana Harris, Phillip Costanzo

Abstract: This project seeks to assess the limitations and function of intellectual humility in the judicial system and develop strategies to encourage intellectual humility, thereby reducing erroneous decisions to prosecute and subsequent wrongful convictions. We will use a multi-stage method, first developing and validating a measure of intellectual humility; second, using our scale in applied research in collaboration with Duke Law School’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic and the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys to investigate the influence of legal roles on intellectual humility and the interaction of role and personality disposition, and; third, further refining our findings using fMRI imaging data exploring brain correlates of intellectual humility. We also plan to host a series of seminars and practical workshops bringing prosecutors, police investigators, defense lawyers, and judges together with academic researchers from the fields of law, neuroscience, ethics, psychology, and theology to exchange insights on how intellectual humility may influence legal decision making. We hope our seminars will begin to address the future initiatives of the Fuller Theological Seminary, namely research on the implications of intellectual humility in the domain of public discourse, and how further inquiry and research on intellectual humility can pave the way for eventual practice and policy improvements that could reduce wrongful convictions.

Primary Investigator: Victor Ottati

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.

Primary Investigator: Arie Kruglansky

Abstract: The present proposal empirically explores potential epistemic underpinnings of intellectual attitudes. Its central question concerns the relation between knowledge formation processes and the intellectual attitudes of arrogance, diffidence and humility. Based on our theory of lay epistemics (Kruglanski, 1989; 2004) we identify two factors which may combine to induce those intellectual attitudes. One of these factors is the need for cognitive closure (NFC) (e.g. Kruglanski, 2004; Kruglanski & Webster, 1996; Kruglanski, Pierro, Manneti & DeGrada, 2006). The second factor is an individual’s self ascribed epistemic authority relative to that of their interaction partner’s (Kruglanski et al., 2005).

Two sets of studies incorporating these factors are being proposd. Both sets will vary (in different ways) participants’ need for closure as well as the perceived epistemic authority of participants relative to their interaction partners. The first study set will vary the epistemic authority ascriptions to the participant. The second set will vary epistemic authority ascriptions to the partner. These features of our research designs will afford the examination of predictions concerning the joint impact of participant’s need for cognitive closure and the perceived relative epistemic authorities of the participant vs. the interaction partner on participants’ intellectual attitudes of arrogance, diffidence and humility. The general hypothesis under investigation is the following: Individuals with a high need for cognitive closure will be sensitive to perceived epistemic authority differential between themselves and their interaction partners. To the extent that their self ascribed epistemic authority is perceived to be higher than the perceived authority of their partners, high need for closure individuals will display intellectual arrogance. In contrast, to the extent that their self ascribed epistemic authority will be lower than the perceived authority of their interaction partners, high need for closure individuals will display intellectual diffidence. Individuals with low need for cognitive closure will be less sensitive to the perceived epistemic authority differential between themselves and their interaction partners. These individuals will be instead attentive to the substance of the information and will, therefore, behave in a manner reflecting intellectual humility.

Follow up research will investigate ways of attenuating the attitudes of intellectual arrogance and diffidence and augmenting the attitude of intellectual humility. These follow up experiments will be carried out in paradigms of Study Set 1 and 2 and will consist of reducing the participants need for cognitive closure through the induction of a fear of invalidity. If our predictions are supported we would have convergent evidence concerning the relation between the process of knowledge formationand the intellectual attitudes of arrogance, diffidence and humility.

Understanding the epistemic underpinnings of intellectual arrogance, diffidence and humility would make a contribution to experimental philosophy and serve as an important first step in launching developmental investigations into caretaker practices and conditions that foster the emergence of different intellectual attitudes in children. Further into the future, such research could contribute to programs and interventions aimed to cultivate virtuous intellectual attitudes such as humility, and to discourage unworthy attitudes of arrogance and diffidence.

Primary Investigators: Judith H. Danovitch, Jason S. Moser

Abstract: On 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.

Primary Investigator: Joshua N. Hook

Abstract: The purpose of this project is to examine the theoretical links between religious diversity, intellectual humility (IH), and religious tolerance in religious leaders. Our main hypothesis is that the awareness and experience of religious diversity will be associated with higher levels of IH, which in turn will be associated with higher levels of religious tolerance and the ability to develop and maintain positive relationships with individuals who have different religious beliefs and values.Religion is an area that is difficult to engage with IH. Religious beliefs and values are often strongly defended for both individual and social reasons. On the individual level, adherence to a religious system may decrease existential anxiety and increase self-esteem as one follows the precepts of one’s religion. On the social level, people are ‘groupish’ and have a tendency to defend the groups they are members of and derogate members of other groups. Religion may be an especially powerful form of group membership because it provides a mechanism to form a moral community that binds individuals together. Historically (and today), religious disagreement has often led to conflict, sometimes with violent and disastrous consequences.

Thus, the current project explores IH and religious tolerance in three samples of religious leaders. Religious leaders may be especially important to study because they often hold positions of power in the area of religious discourse, sometimes with thousands of followers who listen to their sermons and read their books. Also, religious leaders often have major roles in mediating religious disagreements and conflicts, so the ability of religious leaders to engage with others who hold different religious convictions has important implications for resolving conflicts between religious groups.

We propose three studies in the current grant proposal. In Study 1, religious leaders from community and academic settings will complete measures of IH, religiousness, experience with religious diversity, and religious tolerance. In Study 2, religious-leaders-in-training (i.e., attending seminaries) will complete a similar set of measures at four time points over two years. In Study 3, religious leaders consist of undergraduate students who are leaders in campus-based religious organizations. They will complete a series of activities that require cooperation and dialogue with members of other religious perspectives. The overall hypothesis is that IH will be associated with (a) higher levels of religious tolerance and (b) the ability to develop and maintain positive relationships with individuals from diverse religious backgrounds and perspectives.

The intellectual merit of this project focuses on providing empirical support to theoretical associations between religious diversity, IH, and religious tolerance. Furthermore, the project addresses these associations in religious leaders—a population with the potential to make real changes in religious discourse both in the United States and in the world. The broader impacts of this project include providing information for how best to encourage religious cooperation and mediate religious disagreement and conflict. This contribution will influence future research and has implications for improving peaceful interactions both at an interpersonal level and at a broad cultural level.

Primary Investigators: Mark Alfano, Daniel Lapsely, Paul Stey

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.

Primary Investigator: Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso

Abstract: By helping a person transcend the self, humility can function as a natural source of virtuous behavior. Parallels exist within the intellectual domain. Intellectual humility involves a humble stance in developing and maintaining beliefs. It includes accepting the limits of one’s knowledge and considering one’s beliefs within a larger context. It is a quality that holds unique power to promote tolerance, collaboration, civil discourse, and other factors closely associated with human thriving. However, understanding the unique potential intellectual humility has to promote wellbeing requires a more precise understanding of what intellectual humility is and how it can be quantified. There are many fruitful avenues of exploration within the young science of intellectual humility. Most will require a comprehensive and psychometrically strong measure of intellectual humility, which is currently lacking. Therefore, we propose to develop and validate a measure of intellectual humility that is founded on a robust, theoretically grounded understanding of intellectual humility. We will base the measure on literature reviews, interviews, pilot testing, exploratory factor analysis, and confirmatory factor analyses. We will evaluate how the scale relates to similar measures and whether it is able to differentiate between those known to be high and low in intellectual humility (based on peer ratings). In our studies to develop the measure, we will empirically examine whether intellectual humility is general or domain specific and whether it is a stable characteristic of a person or variable based on circumstances.Once the scale has been developed and validated, we will make use of it to assess whether there are gender differences in intellectual humility and how intellectual humility relates to a range of psychological, cognitive, and social variables (including other intellectual virtues, cognitive skills and abilities, general human virtues, aspects of human thriving, mental health, personality, academic motivation, and legal attitudes). This will offer valuable insight about intellectual humility. It will also lay the groundwork for research on how intellectual humility impacts lives and relationships and what factors promote and inhibit intellectual humility.

We intend to disseminate our research findings to psychologists, philosophers, theologians, and the general population through conference presentations, journal publications, articles in popular and topical magazines, interviews for news outlets, and blog posts. Our proposed research fits well with the goals of positive psychology, by investigating intellectual humility as a variable that has power to foster positive intrapersonal and interpersonal characteristics. We believe our studies will make a valuable contribution to positive psychology by offering a way to quantify intellectual humility and the potential it has to offer humanity. We hope that our research will generate meaningful conversations and that the scale we develop will be useful in research of intellectual humility for years to come.

Primary Investigator: Emily Pronin

Abstract: Although the mistake is most pronounced during infancy, even adults sometimes have difficulty separating their subjective perceptions from objective reality. This egocentric error affects people’s basic perceptions (e.g., if a room feels too hot, one thinks it literally is too hot). Importantly, it also affects more complex judgments. For example, if one says that the new healthcare bill is too liberal, that person is likely to see that claim as objectively true rather than as opinion (shaped by self-interest, political ideology, media exposure, etc.). This poses a problem for intellectual humility: If people think their opinions, attitudes, and beliefs are direct responses to objective reality (rather than subjective assessments colored by personal biases), then people are likely to hold those opinions, attitudes, and beliefs with little humility. They are likely to display those beliefs with excessive confidence and to show little interest in the views of those who disagree. In previous work, I have found that people show a “bias blind spot”—a widespread inability to recognize when they have been influenced by bias even while they recognize bias all around them. In this grant, I propose experiments to examine implications of the bias blind spot for intellectual humility. First, I will examine how people respond to cues to the possibility that they may be biased, and whether such cues reduce the bias blind spot and induce intellectual humility. I predict that people’s persistent bias blindness will impede intellectual humility even in the face of signs that they may be biased. I will examine two such cues to bias. One involves peer disagreement. That is, how are people’s perceptions of their own biases impacted by the knowledge that similarly intelligent and informed people disagree? The other cue involves the knowledge of bias in one’s decision-making processes. That is, when people assess the presence of bias in their judgments, can they recognize that bias when they know that their judgments derive from a biased process (e.g., a process that selectively exposed them to one side)? In the second portion of the grant, I will examine a psychological approach to fostering intellectual humility and mitigating the bias bind spot. That approach involves nudging people to think about the role of circumstances (or “situations”) rather than personality factors (or “dispositions) in shaping their and others’ beliefs and actions. One of the most influential lessons of social psychology is that people, and especially Westerners, give too little weight to situational factors in trying to understand and explain themselves and others. I predict that shifting people’s perspectives to make them more situationally-focused (e.g., having them write an essay on the circumstances that got them into college) will make them less convinced of their objectivity, more interested in other perspectives, and more open to the possibility that the real “truth” is between their own views and the views of those who disagree with them. Collectively, these experiments will, I hope, illuminate our understanding of intellectual humility and also provide a path to fostering that humility.

Primary Investigators: Stephen P. Stich, Edouard Machery

Abstract: Philosophy is not a discipline noted for intellectual humility. Plato insisted that in an ideal state the king should be a philosopher. Descartes maintained that philosophy is the root from which all the sciences grow. And the Logical Positivists dismissed religion, morality, aesthetics, and political theory as “meaningless nonsense.” Though the lack of intellectual humility in these views is blatant, we believe that there may be another enormously important and largely unrecognized departure from intellectual humility running through much of Western philosophy.From Plato to the present, philosophers have relied on intuitions about cases as an important source of data. Typically, the philosopher will set out a hypothetical example and pose a question involving a philosophically important concept. Here are two examples:

(1) An acquaintance who asked you to store his weapons asks you to return them after having lost his mind. Would it be morally wrong for you to refuse?
(2) A man believes that it is 2:00 p.m. because he has just glanced at the clock in the town square and the clock says 2:00 p.m. The man is correct; it is 2:00 p.m. However the clock is broken. It always says it is 2:00 p.m. Does the man know that it is 2:00 p.m.?

When there is little disagreement among philosophers, it is assumed that philosophers’ intuitions about cases are both universal and reliable. Thus philosophers’ intuitions can be used as evidence in philosophical arguments. Contemporary philosophers often make claims about “our” intuitions, and what “we” think about cases, where it is clear that “we” is intended to denote not just the philosopher and a few like-minded colleagues, but almost all thoughtful people.

Over the last decade, however, the newly emerging field of “experimental philosophy” has posed a challenge to the claim that the professional philosophers’ intuitions about philosophically important cases are universal. Rather, in a growing number of studies, it has been shown that people in different cultural groups – Asians and Westerners, males and females, people of high and low socio-economic status, people with different personality types, people of different ages, people with different native languages, etc. – have different intuitions about cases designed to explore what people think about knowledge, morality, free will, consciousness and other important philosophical issues. Several studies have suggested that professional philosophers may be a demographic group whose intuitions about cases differ systematically from the intuitions of non-philosophers in their culture.

This project will conduct the largest and most systematic study of philosophical intuitions in different cultural groups ever undertaken. Collecting data in more than 15 countries around the world, we will seek to determine the extent to which philosophical intuitions really do differ cross-culturally. When the data are in, we will assemble an international conference, web-cast live and open to people around the world, to debate their implications. Do they show that philosophers should make major changes in their standard methodology? If so, what changes are appropriate to accommodate cultural differences in philosophical intuition?

Primary Investigator: Joshua Alexander

Abstract: Sometimes we disagree. We hold certain beliefs that are explicitly rejected by others, and do so even when exposed to all of the same kinds of evidence and arguments. This fact about us has become increasingly interesting to epistemologists, who have tended to focus on whether these kinds of situations require us to change the confidence we have in our beliefs and in what ways. Less philosophical attention has been paid to what contributes to disagreement, and what this might tell us about its epistemological significance. This is a shame, especially because recent work in the social and cognitive sciences suggests that disagreement might actually play a role in epistemic progress by fostering open-mindedness and by helping us to overcome several well- known cognitive biases. The proposed research project is designed to explore more carefully the relationship between intellectual disagreement and our capacity to be open-minded, focusing on the role that specific cognitive dispositions, as well as specific contextual and situational factors, play in our capacity to be open-minded in the face of cognitive diversity. By coming to better understand what factors influence our capacity to be open-minded in the face of cognitive diversity, we can better understand the epistemological significance of intellectual disagreement, including not only what we should do when we disagree, but what disagreement can do for us.

Primary Investigator: Aiden P. Gregg

Abstract: Pascal famously asserted that man is a feeble reed but a thinking one. Otherwise expressed, human beings, rooted in nature, are shaped by their evolutionary heritage, yet thanks to their rational capacities, they can partly transcend it too. In particular, they can explicitly apprehend aspects of reality. However, implicit biases, some motivational, compromise that apprehension.One such bias is intellectual arrogance (IA). We define it as the natural but ignoble inclination to regard conclusions as true merely because they are one’s own. Intellectual humility (IH), conversely, is the cultivated and noble disinclination to do so.

At the most global level of analysis, what factors promote IA or IH? We seek to answer this question in terms of the agency-communion circumplex. By locating IA and IH within this circumplex, we can coherently relate them to a diversity of existing empirical findings. This circumplex has two independent dimensions that span multiple levels of analysis: agency—encompassing social status, self-perceived competence, and behavioral dominance (i.e., “getting ahead”); and communion—encompassing social inclusion, self- perceived warmth, and behavioral friendliness (i.e., “getting along”).

Our key hypothesis is this: high agency and low communion will promote IA, whereas low agency and high communion will promote IH. Here’s our evolutionary rationale. IA fundamentally involves competition: moving against the world and others, and positioning oneself above both (i.e., low-communion / high-agency). In contrast, IH fundamentally involves cooperation: moving towards other people, and positioning oneself below both (i.e., high-communion / low-agency).

Such strategies manifest themselves epistemically and pragmatically. When reasoning, people high in IA reject truth and seek to distort it presumptuously whereas those high in IH embrace truth and seek to receive it humbly. When arguing, people high in IA clash with others and seek to dictate opinion, whereas those high in IH engage with others and seek to negotiate consensus.

The underlying reason is this: people high in IA exhibit more mental materialism— they jealously regard their conclusions as personal property—and ideological territoriality— they are keen to defend or propagate their conclusions aggressively. Such evolutionary throwbacks are virtuously resisted by people high in IH.

We propose a logical sequence of mutually reinforcing studies to test our account.
Two online studies will assess agency and communion at multiple levels, to test hypothesized correlational links. Two laboratory studies will then independently manipulate agency and communion, across multiple levels simultaneously, to test hypothesized causal links. For completeness, we will operationalize IA and IH in multiple ways across studies, to capture both their epistemic and pragmatic manifestations, and to ensure both construct and ecological validity. For example, one conceptually exact operationalization will quantify how likely participants are to judge a novel conclusion to be true when they imagine it to be theirs rather than someone else’s. Another plausibly real-world operationalization will quantify the extent to participants’ prior beliefs irrationally predict their evaluation of both argument cogency and advocate disposition. Thus, our proposed research will empirically test whether social psychological factors, specified by an evolutionary account, predict IA and IH.

Primary Investigator: Carol Dweck

Abstract: 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.

Primary Investigator: Christine H. Legare

Abstract: Access to diverse and often contradictory beliefs is pervasive in an increasingly interconnected world. To keep pace with rapid advancements in science and technology, it is crucial to discard inaccurate theories of the physical world in favor of more accurate scientific understanding. The capacity to reconcile disparate belief systems is essential for the development of tolerant and scientifically literate global citizens. Intellectual humility, defined as the state of openness to new ideas, receptivity to new sources of evidence, and willingness to revise beliefs in the face of inconsistent evidence, is integral to the development of scientific reasoning.Intellectual humility is necessary both for reasoning about others intentions and beliefs, and for the scientific process, in which we revise beliefs in the face of inconsistent evidence and discard ineffective theories and technologies for those that provide greater explanatory value. The objectives of the proposed research are to examine (a) children’s ability to revise their beliefs when faced with different kinds of evidence (i.e., consistent, inconsistent, and ambiguous information) and (b) individual differences in the personality traits associated with the process of belief revision (i.e., need for cognition, openness and conscientiousness). Examining intellectual humility in early childhood will provide key insight into how this crucial capacity comes into being and will allow us to better understand how to integrate this capacity into educational initiatives.

Primary Investigator: Kristina R. Olson

Abstract: 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.

Primary Investigators: Frank Keil, Kristi L. Lockhart

Abstract: While most would agree on the virtues of intellectual humility, little is known about the conditions that promote intellectual humility or intellectual arrogance in all of us. The four sets of studies in this project focus on how individuals evaluate their abilities to explain, understand and argue about important real world topics across the disciplines. We suggest that this is an especially important dimension of intellectual humility as it may strongly guide our decisions and actions on issues relevant to our lives. One set of studies asks how areas of professional and academic concentration are related to intellectual humility in one’s own area, in closely related areas, and in areas remote from one’s own expertise. That set of studies also asks how the acquisition of additional explanatory knowledge influences intellectual humility and how such changes interact with care and ideological loadings of topics. Those studies therefore explore how interventions in the form of additional kinds of knowledge (explanatory and otherwise) influence humility.

The second set of studies focuses on how immersion in situations that promote arguing-to-learn vs. arguing-to-win mindsets influence intellectual humility and related attitudes toward the absolute truth of certain positions. We propose that arguing-to-learn mindsets produce both more humility and more effective practices for engaging future arguments.

The third set of studies asks how an increased awareness of the social scaffolding of knowledge might promote intellectual humility and its behavioral manifestation through more effective deference to others. These studies argue that one key facet of intellectual humility is the recognition of the extent to which one’s own intellectual accomplishments build on those in one’s broader community, including the entire internet.

Finally, the fourth set of studies explores the development of intellectual humility and asks if some forms of humility can co-exist with the very high and often unrealistic optimism that young children have about their future states of knowledge. We argue that a kind of behavioral intellectual humility, as revealed through a willingness to learn from others, is very prominent in young children and that their high levels of optimism, while in one sense a form of intellectual arrogance about their intellectual futures, are in fact an adaptive motivational stance that still allows them to embrace and enjoy learning in the present.

St. Louis Grants

The St Louis Portion of the IH initiatives is meant to explore the key concepts and philosophical and theological issues that undergird (and are informed by) the empirical research happening at Fuller.

View the “The Philosophy and Theology of Intellectual Humility” project website: