Intellectual humility is a metacognitive process characterized by recognizing the limits of one's knowledge and acknowledging one's fallibility. It involves several components, including not thinking too highly of oneself, refraining from believing one's own views are superior to others', lacking intellectual vanity, being open to new ideas, and acknowledging mistakes and shortcomings. It is positively associated with openness to new ideas, empathy, prosocial values, tolerance for diverse perspectives, and scrutiny of misinformation. Individuals with higher levels of intellectual humility experience benefits such as improved decision-making, positive social interactions, and the moderation of conflicts. There is a long history of philosophers considering the importance of intellectual humility as a 'virtue'. The modern study of this phenomenon began in the mid-2000s.


Intellectual humility is a psychological process, a metacognitive entity, defined as "the recognition of the limits of one’s knowledge and an awareness of one’s fallibility."[1]


Intellectual humility is "a multifaceted and multilayered virtue"[2] which involves several key components that shape an individual's intellectual disposition. An intellectually humbler person will:

It is positively associated with:


There are a variety of benefits to individuals who have higher intellectual humility including:

At a social level there are also benefits including the moderation of conflicts and may lead to greater compromise.[4]

The consequences of the reverse - i.e. overconfidence - can be problematic. As social psychologist Scott Plous wrote, "No problem in judgement and decision making is more prevalent and more potentially catastrophic than overconfidence."[5] It has been blamed for lawsuits, strikes, wars, poor corporate acquisitions,[6][7] and stock market bubbles and crashes.

A large study of nearly 50,000 participants from over 68 countries the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic (April-May 2020) found that "open-mindedness turns out to be the strongest predictor for rejecting conspiracy beliefs" (and support for public health measures) related to COVID-19.[8]

Learning Intellectual Humility

A study found that users of an online tool could experience small- to medium-sized increase in their intellectual humility.[3]

Activities with some empirical support and/or theoretical foundation for increasing intellectual humility[9]
Exercise with rationale Sample applications
Reason about a challenging situation from a third-person rather than a first-person perspective. Thinking about a situation from a third-person perspective creates psychological distance, which increases objectivity about the situation. It also shifts people from an individual to a relational focus.
  • Journal about a challenging interpersonal situation from the vantage point of an outside observer. Possible writing prompt: "Think about a challenging interpersonal exchange. Pretend an uninvolved person observed the interaction. Write down everything the uninvolved person would have seen and heard from his or her perspective."
  • Ask team members who are experiencing an intellectual disagreement to engage in a 180-degree role play in which they have a discussion arguing only from the other person’s perspectives (provide name tags with the other person’s name to add effect). Although different from a third-person perspective, this exercise often leads to greater understanding of another person’s viewpoint
Shift toward a growth mindset of intelligence: the belief that intelligence can be developed and grow rather than that it is a trait that cannot be changed. People who hold a growth mindset of intelligence may feel less threatened to acknowledge what they don't yet understand and feel more comfortable acknowledging the intellectual strengths of others.
  • Read an article or chapter about the growth mindset of intelligence, such as Dweck & Yeager.30
  • Create shared learning opportunities with longer readings, such as Dweck,31 where team members each review one chapter and share a 5x5 (5 minutes, 5 slides) presentation with the team about the key points of the chapter.
Critically evaluate the limitations of one’s knowledge on a particular topic or in a particular situation.32 When people assess the limits of their knowledge in a particular situation or on a particular topic it can make their general intellectual humility more salient in the moment, on the topic in question.
  • Critically evaluate for yourself: Could your views on the topic turn out to be wrong? Could you be overlooking evidence on the topic? Could your views on the topic change if you were given additional evidence or information?33
Identify previous examples where acknowledging flaws in one’s thinking or ideas resulted in positive change. Thinking about practical examples of intellectual humility brings this concept out of the theoretical to promote applied understanding. This exercise can minimize fears about intellectual humility by highlighting the ways in which intellectual humility has resulted in positive outcomes for a person in the past.
  • Identify views or policies you held in the past that you have since changed. Consider views and policies that were supported by reason at the time, but that you came to reject as false or unhelpful.
Recognize general human intellectual fallibility.36 Acknowledging that all humans have intellectual fallibility can help people realize they are no exception. This allows people to embrace intellectual humility as an aspect of their shared humanity and may help leaders accept their own and their followers’ intellectual fallibility.
  • Learn about humans’ cognitive biases


For millennia, philosophers have championed "a recognition of one's epistemic limit" and have named it an epistemic virtue.[1]

Perhaps the first recorded instance of intellectual humility is when Socrates (in The Apology) remarked: "Although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks he knows. I neither know nor think I know."[1]

Waclaw Bąk et al. identify Socrates as "the ideal example" of intellectual humility. Studies by Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Gordon Allport discuss humility with regard to one's knowledge without using the phrase "intellectual humility.[10] [check quotation syntax] Notwithstanding this long history, attention from social and behavioural scientists is much more recent - roughly starting in the mid-2000s.[11] One of the first focused studies of intellectual humility was conducted by Roberts and Woods in 2003.[12]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ a b c Costello, T. H.; Newton, C.; Lin, H.; Pennycook, G. (6 August 2023). "Metacognitive Blindspot in Intellectual Humility Measures". PsyArXiv Preprints. Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science (SIPS) and the Center for Open Science (COS). doi:10.31234/ Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  2. ^ a b Hannon, Michael (20 July 2020). "Chapter 7: Intellectual humility and the curse of knowledge". In Tanesini, Alessandra; Lynch, Michael (eds.). Polarisation, Arrogance, and Dogmatism: Philosophical Perspectives. Routledge. pp. 104–119. ISBN 978-0367260859. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  3. ^ a b Welker, Keith M.; Duong, Mylien; Rakhshani, Andrew; Dieffenbach, Macrina; Coleman, Peter; Peter, Jonathan (15 June 2023). "The Online Educational Program 'Perspectives' Improves Affective Polarization, Intellectual Humility, and Conflict Management" (PDF). Journal of Social and Political Psychology. 11 (2): 439. doi:10.5964/jspp.10651. Retrieved 19 February 2024.
  4. ^ a b Leary, M.R. (2022). "Intellectual Humility as a Route to More Accurate Knowledge, Better Decisions, and Less Conflict". . American Journal of Health Promotion. 36 (8): 1401–1404. doi:10.1177/08901171221125326b. PMID 36305505. Retrieved 19 February 2024.
  5. ^ Plous, Scott (1993). The psychology of judgement and decision making (1st ed.). McGraw-Hill Education. p. 217. ISBN 0070504776.
  6. ^ Malmendier, Ulrike; Tate, Geoffrey (2008). "Who makes acquisitions? CEO overconfidence and the market's reaction". Journal of Financial Economics. 89 (1): 20–43. doi:10.1016/j.jfineco.2007.07.002. S2CID 12354773.
  7. ^ Twardawski, Torsten; Kind, Axel (2023). "Board overconfidence in mergers and acquisitions". Journal of Business Research. 165 (1). doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2023.114026.
  8. ^ Pärnamets, Philip; Alfano, Mark; Van Bavel, Jay; Ross, Robert (22 July 2022). "Open-mindedness predicts support for public health measures and disbelief in conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic". PsyArXiv. doi:10.31234/ Retrieved 20 February 2024.
  9. ^ Krumrei-Mancuso, Elizabeth; Rice Begin, Malika (28 October 2022). ""Cultivating Intellectual Humility in Leaders: Potential Benefits, Risks, and Practical Tools"". American Journal of Health Promotion. 36 (8): 1399–1420. doi:10.1177/08901171221125326. PMID 36305499.
  10. ^ Bąk, Wacław; Wójtowicz, Bartosz; Kutnik, Jan (2022). "Intellectual humility: an old problem in a new psychological perspective". Current Issues in Personality Psychology. 10 (2): 85–97. doi:10.5114/cipp.2021.106999. ISSN 2353-4192. PMC 10535625. PMID 38013918. S2CID 237964643.
  11. ^ Hoyle, Rick (20 July 2023). "Chapter 6: Forms of Intellectual Humility and Their Associations with Features of KNowledge, Beliefs, and Opinions". In Ottati, Victor; Stern, Chadly (eds.). Open-Mindedness and Dogmatism in a Polarized World. Oxford University Press. pp. 101–119. ISBN 978-0197655467. Retrieved 19 February 2024.
  12. ^ Haggard, Megan C. (December 2016). Humility as Intellectual Virtue: Assessment and Uses of a Limitations-Owning Perspective of Intellectual Humility (PDF). Baylor University (PhD thesis). p. 2.