Category: Intellectual Humility (page 1 of 2)

Measuring Intellectual Humility

As a culmination of our intellectual humility grant in 2013, my co-authors (Mark Alfano, Kathryn Iurino, Paul Stey, Markus Christen, Feng Yu, and Danial Lapsley) have just published our new multi-dimensional measure of intellectual humility. Over five studies (N=3,651), two languages, and five years went into producing this paper in PLoS One, where we present our validate tool for measuring the trait of intellectual humility in people. Here’s the abstract:

This paper presents five studies on the development and validation of a scale of intellectual humility.This scale captures cognitive, affective, behavioral, and motivational components of the construct that have been identified by various philosophers in their conceptual analyses of intellectual humility. We find that intellectual humility has four core dimensions: Open-mindedness (versus Arrogance), Intellectual Modesty (versus Vanity), Corrigibility (versus Fragility), and Engagement (versus Boredom). These dimensions display adequate self-informant agreement, and adequate convergent, divergent, and discriminant validity. In particular, Open-mindedness adds predictive power beyond the Big Six for an objective behavioral measure of intellectual humility, and Intellectual Modesty is uniquely related to Narcissism. We find that a similar factor structure emerges in Germanophone participants, giving initial evidence for the model’s cross-cultural generalizability.


Publication: Semantic Space of Intellectual Humility

Good news, Synonym map for Intellectual Humilityeveryone! Markus Christen, Mark Alfano, and I have another paper forthcoming from our Intellectual Humility Grant. Next month, we will present our paper “The Semantic Space of Intellectual Humility” at the European Conference on Social Intelligence in Barcelona. It will then be published in the conference’s proceedings.

In this paper, we employ psycholexical approach to the study of intellectual humility (IH). This method collects a term’s synonyms and antonyms and then compares the similarity of all those terms. As you can see from the image here (larger version available in the paper), we can then map the terms based on their similarity with each other. In this mapping procedure (superparamagnetic agent mapping) terms are attracted to other similar terms and repel those that are different. Clusters emerge. Looking just at the synonyms, we found three clusters that we labeled the Discreet Self, the Inquisitive Self, and the Sensible Self. Each provides insight into different ways one can be intellectually humble. Put another way, IH is a multi-faceted virtue and our method has revealed three of those facets.

For more (especially about IH’s antonyms), check out the paper. It turns out that IH can also be understood as situated in the mean between various vices. This is close to what Aristotle might have predicted, only we found there were more than two vices.

Published Bragging


Over the summer I posted about my co-authored paper on Bragging. I’m happy to report that the paper has been accepted for publication by Thought: A Journal of Philosophy. This is the first paper to come out of the Intellectual Humility grant my research team and I received.

The paper supplies a conceptual analysis of the speech act of bragging. Bragging (or boasting), we claim, is a kind of asserting. When you brag, you assert something, but you also aim to impress your audience with something about yourself. Adopting a Gricean framework of defining speech acts based on speakers’ intentions, we define bragging this way. We think that a speaker brags iff she intends by making an utterance:

  1. to produce in the addressee the belief that p,
  2. that the addressee should recognize the speaker’s intention (1),
  3. that the addressee should base her belief that p on her recognition of (1), and
  4. that the addressee’s belief that p lead her to be impressed with the speaker.

humble-brag-online-facebook-lg-optimus-g-pro-ecards-someecardsWe then offer a few remarks on the recent neologism ‘humblebrag.’ which is brag that tries to hide with corresponding self-deprecation. A good example is the tweet by @johnmoe, “The fact that Wikipedia lists me as a notable alumnus of my college speaks ill of the reliability of crowd sourced information.”

Finally, we suggest instead a three-way taxonomy of brags: (a) brazen brags, where the speaker intends the addressee to recognize that she’s trying to impress, (b) humblebrags, where the speaker intends the addressee to fail to recognize that she’s trying to impress, and (c) indifferent brags, where the speaker doesn’t intend one way or the other.


I don’t usually post about papers until they’ve been accepted, but since my co-author (Mark Alfano, Oregon) has already posted, so I’ll share as well. We have completed and submitted a paper that offers an intention-based analysis of the speech act of bragging. This includes the new act, the humblebrag.

You can read the current draft on his site. brag


Humility and Modesty

Julia Driver (Uneasy Virtue, 2011: 16ff, 114-5) claims there is a paradox of self-reference for modesty, but not humility. That is, it’s self-contradictory to say, “I’m modest,” but not “I’m humble.” She doesn’t give much argument other than to claim that humility has to do with being of an inferior status, so one can correctly attribute that status to oneself. But you can’t claim to be modest without contradiction. I’m not convinced, but let’s set that aside. What is the relationship between humility and modesty? Are they the same, closely related, or completely different? Modesty is the second synonym listed for ‘humility’ listed on So they seem at least related. Google Ngrams is one of my new favorite toys. It checks its database of over five million books for the frequency of a term (or terms). Plugging in ‘humility’ and ‘modesty,’ you get the following:

chart of humility and modesty usage over time

This suggests to me that the two concepts have fallen (and risen back a bit) together in social importance (assuming how much they’re talked about in books is any indication of that). So it seems they’re related at least and not altogether different. Maybe then there is a paradox of self-reference for humility. What do you think? What do these terms mean and are they any different?

One-Year Update on Intellectual Humility

We are now one year in to our two-year grant to study Intellectual Humility: The Elusive Virtue. So we thought it was time for an update, especially since there was our mid-point conference in St. Louis this week with all the intellectual humility (IH) grant awardees presenting as well. We’ve done a lot in our first year, much is still going on, and some exciting work remains for our second

Continue reading

What is Intellectual Humility?

As you may recall, early this year my colleagues and I received a grant to investigate the elusiveness of intellectual humility (IH). I wanted to offer an end-of-the-year update on our progress. Mark Alfano and I are working on a paper laying out the philosophical argument for why intellectual humility is fundamentally elusive. This fall, I ran the first experiment in Study I at Grand Valley State University, with over 500 participants. These results will be compared to those coming soon from the University of Oregon to create an explicit IH scale.

Markus Christen lead the effort in completing completed our semantic analysis of IH with some fascinating results. Essentially, he found various synonyms and antonyms for IH and grouped them to show what an intellectually humble person is and isn’t. In short, we find that an IH person is “curious, mindful for others and unpretentious.” He wrote up a short summary of our results on our IH blog. I highly recommend it.

Stay Humble, My Friends. Stay Humble.

Can you be humble and know it? Can you be humble and say so? And what does being humble even mean anyway? These are some of the questions that we hope to answer over the next two years.

I'm not always humble. But when I am, I'll be sure to tell you.Consider our friend here, the Most Interesting Man in the World. If he tells you he’s humble, is he? Intuitively, it seems like he’s not. As soon as someone tells you he or she is humble, you have good reason to suspect they’re not. Growing up, my father had a sign in his office proclaiming himself to be the most humble person in the world. (Whether that was arrogance or irony, I’ll leave aside for now.) But the key point is that there’s something different about humility. If I tell you I’m brave or just or wise or temperate, my having told you so doesn’t count as evidence against my claim. Bragging about being humble suggests the bragger isn’t humble. Humility is elusive. Continue reading Site Launched

As part of the Intellectual Humility grant, I’ve just launched There you will find updates on the progress of my research team on our project Intellectual Humility: The Elusive Virtue. Later, we’ll be adding a blog, where we also hope to post updates on the work being done by other research groups.

And in case you’re wondering, the image on the homepage is a photo I took of the hedge maze at Scone Palace in Scotland.

Two-Year Grant Awarded for Intellectual Humility

I’m very pleased to announce that my research team and I have been awarded a two-year grant to fund our research project Intellectual Humility: The Elusive Virtue. We’re very excited for this opportunity and I will post here as our project unfolds. You can read the details of our project in my previous post.

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