Intellectual Humility Could Improve Tolerance, Decision-Making

Two people using tablet togetherIntellectual humility may increase tolerance while improving judgment, according to a group of four studies published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Intellectual humility is the willingness people to recognize their beliefs may be incorrect. People who score high on measures of intellectual humility more readily admit when they are wrong. This little-studied personality trait gets less attention compared to traits such as hostility and arrogance. Yet, this new group of studies suggests intellectual humility could be a key to better relationships and communication.

Intellectual Humility: Better Communication, More Tolerance

For the first study, researchers used a newly developed Intellectual Humility Scale to assess participants’ intellectual humility. People who scored high on measures of intellectual humility had higher levels of tolerance, curiosity, and ambiguity, and they were less likely to be rigid in their beliefs.

For the second trial, participants read an essay presenting an opinion with which they disagreed. People who were more intellectually arrogant rated the writer low on honesty, competence, morality, and warmth. People with more intellectual humility judged the writer’s character less harshly based on this disagreement, pointing to greater tolerance among those with higher levels of intellectual humility.

A third trial assessed the ability of people to evaluate the quality of evidence in an argument. After hearing arguments in favor of flossing, people with higher levels of intellectual humility were more adept at identifying strong arguments among weak ones.

Another trial explored how people’s intellectual humility affected their views on politicians who change their stance on issues. People who scored high on intellectual humility were less likely to negatively view these politicians as “flip-floppers.”

This trial also revealed an interaction between intellectual humility and political ideology. Republicans who scored higher on measures of intellectual humility were more likely to vote for a candidate whose views changed based on new evidence. Intellectual humility had less influence over how Democrats viewed changes in political opinions.

The study’s authors suggest promoting intellectual humility could reduce discord over issues such as politics and religion, enabling people to communicate more effectively even when they disagree.


  1. For a modest personality trait, ‘intellectual humility’ packs a punch. (2017, March 17). Retrieved from
  2. Leary, M. R., Diebels, K. J., Davisson, E. K., Jongman-Sereno, K. P., Isherwood, J. C., Raimi, K. T., . . . Hoyle, R. H. (2017). Cognitive and interpersonal features of intellectual humility. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. doi:10.1177/0146167217697695

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  • Karenna


    April 12th, 2017 at 6:51 AM

    Don’t you think that in some ways that humility feels like it is a thing of the past? No one ever seems to want to own up to the fact when they are wrong and certainly not take any sort of responsibility for anything even when it is clearly their fault. I am not sure how we got to this point because my parents always made sure that if we were wrong we would be the first to admit it, apologize, and then you can move on.
    But now, it feels like there is this quagmire where no one wants to ever admit that they are mistaken so we are perpetually bogged down.

  • Jill C

    Jill C

    April 13th, 2017 at 6:12 PM

    Almost makes you wish that this was something that we could bottle up and dispense

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