We’re approaching that time of year again when families will gather to celebrate the holidays, and perhaps you are already starting to feel a bit anxious about it. More than a few of us may feel like we’re tip-toeing through a minefield at these gatherings as we attempt to avoid triggering explosive political arguments. ‘Just don’t talk about politics’ seems like the safest approach, but what if there was another way? What if you could discuss politics without it devolving into angry chaos?
Recent research conducted by Drs. Elizabeth Krumrei-Mancuso and Brian Newman and published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology suggests there are some people who are better equipped to engage in political discussions without losing their heads. Their study, which involved collecting survey data from over 800 Americans, found that some individuals are more willing to engage in political discussions and less likely to dislike someone that expresses views that are different from their own. These same individuals are also more open to adjusting their own opinion after hearing someone else’s perspective.
What is so different about these individuals? Are they more educated on political matters? More outgoing and friendly? Actually, the defining feature of these participants was humility. More specifically, intellectual humility.
Intellectual humility refers to the ability to recognize that your own knowledge and understanding very likely contains gaps and inaccuracies. People that possess intellectual humility understand it is impossible to know absolutely everything about anything. They also recognize that the human mind is filled with biases and shortcomings, and their own mind is no exception. In general, people with high intellectual humility are more open-minded, empathetic, and tolerant toward those with different backgrounds and beliefs.
However, it is possible for a person to be intellectually humble in one area or topic (e.g., economics) while exhibiting a lack of intellectual humility in other areas (e.g., politics). What was unique about the politically open participants in Krumrei-Mancuso and Newman’s research was that they had high intellectual humility specifically concerning their social and political beliefs.
How might this help with your upcoming family gatherings? Cultivating a little more intellectual humility beforehand could be helpful. While there is thus far rather limited research on ways to increase intellectual humility, at least one published study has demonstrated that it can be done. Researchers Tenelle Porter and Karina Schumann from the University of California – Davis found that learning about a growth mindset increased intellectual humility in their participants, which then boosted open-mindedness in these same participants.
A growth mindset is simply when you believe that intelligence is something that can be developed, as opposed to something one is simply born with. So, based on these results, it is possible that your intellectual humility may have increased a bit simply by learning what a growth mindset is.
There’s no simple solution for the political tension currently wreaking havoc in our country, and we certainly don’t have any control over the intellectual humility of other people. But we can do what we can to try to develop a little more intellectual humility in ourselves. Adopting a growth mindset is one good place to start, but it also can’t hurt to reflect – really reflect – on the strong possibility that maybe we don’t really know everything there is to know about our pet political issues. It is also very likely some of what we think we know is incorrect. Acknowledging this simple, but tough, reality could go a long way toward a more peaceful holiday season.
Krumrei-Mancuso, E. J. & Newman, B. (2021). Sociopolitical intellectual humility as a predictor of political attitudes and behavioral intensions. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 9, 52-68. https://doi.org/10.5964/jspp.5553
Porter, T. & Schumann, K. (2018). Intellectual humility and openness to the opposing view. Self and Identity, 17, 139-162. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2017.1361861