Humble Pie

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

“The meek shall inherit the earth”. At least that’s how the saying goes; but in these days of Trump and Brexit, humility has never looked more out of fashion. Take heart, then, from a new study that demonstrates the benefits of intellectual humility. To measure your own, simply answer the following question:

 

On a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much), to what extent do you accept that your beliefs and attitudes may be wrong.

 

If you said 4 or above, then you are above average in terms of intellectual humility (the mean score in an internet sample of 400 participants was around 3.75). This is good news: A new study from Duke University in North Carolina found that intellectual humility is related to a large number of positive qualities, including curiosity, autonomy, attentiveness, carefulness, thoroughness and – perhaps surprisingly – courage and tenacity; qualities that are traditionally associated more with braggadocio than humility. A follow-up study found that participants scoring high on intellectual humility gave more favourable ratings to both pro- and anti-religion essays, regardless of their own religious views. A second study found that intellectually humble participants were more willing to vote for politicians who changed their position on a particular issue. A third study found that they were also better able to distinguish between weak arguments for tooth flossing (it’s recommended by people who floss) and strong arguments (it prevents tooth decay).

If you said 3 or below, then – sorry – but you are lacking in intellectual humility. Have you ever thought about a career in politics?

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Are You Smarter Than A Chimpanzee? by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £12.99) for £11.04 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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