Americans who are more humble about their level of knowledge tend to be less hostile towards their sociopolitical rivals, according to new research published in the journal Self and Identity. The findings indicate that intellectual humility is related to levels of affective polarization and responsiveness to new information.
“Many people in the U.S. are frustrated with the tone of public discourse. Giving or taking offense seem to be the status quo when it comes to social and political discussions,” said study author Elizabeth J. Krumrei-Mancuso, a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University.
“This made me interested in examining whether intellectual humility may offer a potential solution to some of the acrimony surrounding sociopolitical discourse. To be able to move forward in a positive direction as a society, we need to be able to listen to one another and work together. Intellectual humility may be able to contribute to this process.”
In the study, conducted online via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, 587 U.S. adults completed an assessment of general intellectual humility before indicating how warmly or coldly they feel towards “Conservatives,” “Liberals,” “Republicans,” “Democrats,” “Evangelical Christians,” and “Muslims” on a visual thermometer scale — which was used as a measure of affective polarization.
The researchers found that those with higher levels of intellectual humility tended to have lower levels of affective polarization.
“Most people will have warmer feelings towards individuals who are ideologically similar to themselves compared to individuals who are different,” Krumrei-Mancuso explained. “Democrats tend to favor Democrats and Republicans tend to favor Republicans and so forth.”
“Our research indicated that those who are higher in intellectual humility about their sociopolitical views, broadly defined, expressed less strong preferences for their in-groups compared to their out-groups. Although the effects were small, any progress we can make toward minimizing the extreme affective polarization that exists in our country may benefit society.”
The participants were also asked to rate their level of agreement with the statement: “In general, immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than those born in the U.S.”
Half the participants were randomly assigned to complete a measure of their intellectual humility regarding crime rates, while the other half skipped the measure. Some of the participants were told they would later have to write an argument to defend their own viewpoint.
All the participants then read an article from Factcheck.org that described current knowledge about crime rates among immigrants. Afterward, they once again rated their level of agreement with the statement that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes.
“We found that when individuals were asked to think about defending their own positions, being higher in intellectual humility about their sociopolitical views was associated with being more open to revising their beliefs when presented with factual information about a political topic. This suggests sociopolitical intellectual humility may have a role to play in minimizing motivated reasoning,” Krumrei-Mancuso told PsyPost.
The researchers also found that those who complete a measure of their intellectual humility regarding crime rates tended to be more responsive to information, indicating that being reminded of one’s own fallibility can have an impact. However, this was only found among those with high levels of intellectual humility in general.
“This suggests that intellectual humility interventions must be implemented with care and that they must be tailored to the participants involved,” Krumrei-Mancuso said.
Those with higher levels of intellectual humility also tended to express a bit more interest in politics, but there was no association between intellectual humility and participation in political activities, suggesting that it is distinct from political disengagement.
“Research has just begun to examine the role of intellectual humility in the sociopolitical domain,” Krumrei-Mancuso said. “Much more research is needed to understand how intellectual humility relates to people’s sociopolitical views and behaviors.”
“If we can establish that intellectual humility has a positive role to play in social and political life, then it would be beneficial for research to explore whether there are ways to elicit or encourage intellectual humility.”
The new findings are line with another recent study, which found that those with higher levels of intellectual humility were less likely to view people who disagree with them as morally or intellectually inferior.
“One of the most valuable things intellectual humility might have to offer in the sociopolitical domain is the realization that diverse ways of thinking are enriching rather than threatening, because this allows us to learn from each another and consider more options as we work toward a better society,” Krumrei-Mancuso said.
The study, “Intellectual humility in the sociopolitical domain“, was authored by Elizabeth J. Krumrei-Mancuso and Brian Newman.