The Understated Power of Humility (Would You Have Expected Anything Else?)

We found that the more intellectually humble students were more motivated to learn and more likely to use effective metacognitive strategies, like quizzing themselves to check their own understanding. They also ended the year with higher grades in math.”

The paragraph above comes from a study conducted by Tenelle Porter and her colleagues. The study looked at what is referred to as intellectual humility, which is the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge and to value the insight of someone else.

Porter wanted to know if having an attitude of intellectual humility had any benefits from a learning perspective. In their first experiment using high school students, they observed the results noted at the beginning of this post.

In a second experiment, conducted in a lab, the researchers found that those who read an article on the benefits-of-humility self-reported higher intellectual humility than those in the other group. What’s more, in a follow-up exercise 85 percent of these same participants sought extra help for an area of intellectual weakness. By contrast, only 65 percent of the participants who read about the benefits of being certain sought the extra help that they needed.

Since the results of both studies suggest that intellectual humility has a potential impact on student learning behavior, the researchers next turned to the issue of how to develop intellectual humility.

Their hypothesis was that having a growth mindset –  believing that if you don’t know something, you can learn it and improve your intelligence. This is in opposition to a fixed mindset, one where a person believes that intelligence is permanent, something you are “born with.”

The researchers ran an experiment in which they first temporarily induced a growth mindset of intelligence in the participants. As a result of creating this mindset, the researchers found that the participants’ self-rated intellectual humility was enhanced (at least temporarily). And once you can increase a person’s intellectual humility, students are predicted to have better learning outcomes.

I think I’ve gotten much better at this over the years, being constantly surrounded by people who are smarter than me intellectually humble. I’ve been quicker to admit when I don’t know something, and more willing to search for an answer or solution (thanks Google and Wikipedia!).

I think this research goes hand in hand with a person’s willingness to admit when they are wrong. I think admitting you are wrong is another kind of humility, and shows a willingness to learn from your mistakes, which seems to be part of intellectual humility.

Bottom line, be willing to admit when you are wrong and when you don’t know something.

Humility is greatly undervalued.



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