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Intellectually Humble People Are Better at Applying What They’ve Learned

Intellectually Humble People Are Better at Applying What They’ve Learned

As I’ve mentioned in previous installments of this series, Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias whereby the most unskilled or incompetent individuals think they are much better at things than they actually are. For more information on Dunning-Kruger, please feel free to read the following two articles:

The converse is also true. The most skilled among us are often plagued by doubts (hellloooo impostor syndrome). And experts are often not gigantor braggadocios but actually quite humble.

Today’s study goes into that last issue. In particular, how humility and intellectual knowledge relate to one another. Are those who know it all (or most of it) more likely to be “know-it-all”s?

Or do they tend to be more humble?

Intellectually Humble People Are Better at Applying What They’ve Learned

A set of five studies that examined over 1000 participants found the following:

  • Folks who were not intellectually humble and endorsed statements like “my intellectual ideas are superior to others'” had a tendency to overestimate their cognitive abilities. This tendency was not observed in intellectually humble participants.
  • People who were more intellectually humble were more likely to participate in and enjoy challenging cognitive tasks.
  • Humble participants were both more likely to consider new evidence and more willing to change their mind when presented with contradicting evidence.
  • Intellectual humility was positively related to crystallized intelligence — but not fluid intelligence (both groups were similar in that variable). Intellectual humble people had higher crystallized intelligence (but were similar to non-humble folks on the fluid kind.) What’s the difference between the two? Briefly, fluid intelligence is the ability to solve novel problems and identify patterns. Crystallized intelligence is the ability to apply and/or use previously learned knowledge.


Very interesting study. Folks who want to read more about social science research on humility should check out a previous installment of this series called “What Does It Mean to Be Humble?

But it’s definitely something to keep in mind. Self-confidence is one thing; but letting your ego get in the way of learning and knowledge is quite another.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

Featured Image: CC BY – chaiyawat p