Intellectual Humility: Knowing More and Bragging Less

I am sure you have exhibited this before. You meet new people and you want to show off your knowledge of everything, especially when you find your acquaintance attractive. Trust me this is so easy to do and it is not your fault. However, you don’t have to show that you know everything about everything to get out of an awkward situation.

Studies actually show that people who accept they do not know anything about a subject tend to know more. You may be surprised to know that people actually find you more intelligent when you say “I don’t know.” This is because it shows two things: firstly, that you are a humble person and secondly, it shows that you are not afraid of learning, which is what Intellectual Humility (IH) is all about.


According to CriticalThinking.Org Intellectual Humility (IH) means:

Having a consciousness of the limits of one’s knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one’s native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias, prejudice and limitations of one’s viewpoint.

Put quite literally, intellectual humility (IH) is the virtue of acknowledging your limitations, which can be really difficult to do. However, it shows that you realize that you still have things to learn – a trait that many successful people have. The main thing behind intellectual humility is actually the realization that your ideas, perspectives or opinions about something may actually be wrong. The humility part comes in because you open yourself to possible corrections and opportunities to learn something new.

There are three kinds of people in this life:

The Humble, the Braggers, and the Humble-Braggers – Which one are you?

You may ask what you gain from admitting intellectual fallibility. To answer your question, let’s take a look at a study conducted by Elizabeth Krumrei-Mancuso.

This research was specifically designed to answer your question of “what you gain” from admitting that you don’t know things. To find out, they conducted five separate experiments. They surveyed approximately 1,200 participants in their study, and evaluated them using a number of questionnaires testing their cognitive abilities, measuring their own predictions of their cognitive abilities, and, of course, rating their levels of intellectual humility.

This research used different methods in each of the five studies arrived at well-rounded conclusions. One of the questionnaires evaluated participants on two very important elements: a “Knowing-it-All” subscale and an “Intellectual Openness” subscale. The “Knowing-it-All” subscale judged participants on their attitudes of intellectual superiority while the “Intellectual Openness” assessed how open participants were to learn from others.

The above evaluation was just from one of the five studies, the other four studies used a designed 22-question “Comprehensive Intellectual Humility Scale,” to assesses participants on four elements:

  • openness to revising one’s viewpoint
  • independence of intellect and ego
  • respect for other people’s viewpoint and
  • lack of intellectual overconfidence

Put together, all the five studies were used to understand the past learning, thinking styles, traits, and motivations of participants.

The more you know, the more humble you are

At the end of the studies, Krumrei-Mancuso’s team found that Intellectual Humility was associated with having more general knowledge but not with having a higher cognitive ability than others. This means that people who show intellectual humility are not necessarily smarter than everybody else, however, they tend to know way more than those people who do not show intellectual humility (IH). The reason for this is actually simple. According to the researchers, it is because people who are intellectual humble also share other traits such as reflective thinking, openness, and intellectual curiosity.

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If these were their only findings, then this research would have been boring. There is more. They also found that individuals with high intellectual humility (IH) exhibited less “social vigilantism,” which opens up the possibility that they work better with others.

It also showed that high IH correlated with a strong desire to learn just for the sake of learning and, sometimes, nothing more. Past studies also showed that as people gain more and more knowledge, they become more and more intellectually humble. Hence, knowledge and humility are strongly linked but it is still difficult to tell in which direction.

In my experience, the more I learn, the more I realize there is more to learn, and that is what makes me quite receptive to new things no matter what intellectual areas they fall into.

In conclusion:

No matter where you find yourself, it is always a good principle to remain open and curious. Don’t be worried about people calling you dumb. One fact remains that no one person knows everything. Hence, the opportunity for everyone to learn something new from everyone else.

Therefore, go ye into the world and inquire of the things that ye know nothing about and ask questions where thou see fit.


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