Expanding Awareness of the Science of Intellectual Humility

Throughout history, some of the greatest minds and most exemplary humans—from Einstein to Mother Teresa—have argued that we should recognize the limits of our knowledge and beliefs. “It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom,” said Mahatma Gandhi. “It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”

In recent years, researchers have been exploring the nature and benefits of “intellectual humility”—defined, most simply, as “the degree to which people recognize that their beliefs might be wrong” (Leary et al, 2017)—like never before: More than 10 times as many empirical studies of intellectual humility have been published since 2014 than were published over the previous two decades.  

This research is timely: Today we are arguably facing a crisis of intellectual humility. Recent surveys suggest that social and political polarization in the United States is getting so intense that 73 percent of Americans say Democrats and Republicans don’t only disagree on matters of opinion and policy but can’t even “agree on the basic facts.” Indeed, at a time when people seem almost exclusively drawn to beliefs with which they already agree, and disparage or dismiss other viewpoints, practicing intellectual humility offers a welcome alternative—and finding ways to encourage this skill seems increasingly vital to the health of our democracy, as well as to interfaith dialogues, conversations between the realms of science and religion, effective leadership, and even to the quality of our close relationships.

That is why the Greater Good Science Center is undertaking this three-year project to raise awareness of research on intellectual humility and its implications, in partnership with the John Templeton Foundation. The main goals of the project are to:

  1. Deepen the public’s—and the media’—understanding of intellectual humility, guided by recent scientific findings.
  2. Highlight the contemporary relevance of intellectual humility to various sectors, including K-12 education, health care, faith communities, business, and politics.
  3. Build relationships between intellectual humility researchers and journalists (and other nonfiction media producers) to facilitate accurate, timely, and effective reporting on intellectual humility research in the near- and long-term.

In pursuing these goals, the GGSC is reporting widely on findings from the science of intellectual humility while also strengthening the pipeline through which these findings get communicated to the public.

More specifically, our project activities include:

  • Producing a wide range of multimedia content--including articles, videos, podcast episodes, a quiz, and more--for the GGSC’s many public platforms, as well as for other outlets;
  • Providing 19 grants to journalists and other nonfiction media producers to support the production of stories on intellectual humility for many different outlets and audiences, also pairing the recipients of these grants with leading intellectual humility researchers who will serve as scientific advisors on their stories;
  • Hosting two events that bring together journalists and intellectual humility researchers, strengthening relationships across the two fields in order to improve coverage of scientific findings;
  • Providing media training to intellectual humility researchers to help them communicate their findings more effectively to journalists and the public.

The winners of our grants for journalists and nonfiction media producers were announced in July 2022. Our request for proposals is now closed.

  • Graeme Scott, International School of Bangkok
    “Our work with the GGSC has perhaps had a greater influence on our school than any other initiative in the past five years. The Culture of Care that you helped us to develop has had a huge impact, and we are beginning to see real benefits.”

    ― Graeme Scott, Deputy Head of School for Learning, International School of Bangkok

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