Recent research has highlighted the relevance of intellectual humility to politics. Among a U.S. sample (N = 852), we examined self-reported sociopolitical intellectual humility (SIH), a nonthreatening awareness of the fallibility of one’s views about topics central to society and politics. SIH was associated with being less likely to dislike/avoid political discussion, and with more political tolerance, less social dominance orientation, and more values and behavioral intentions focused on social equality, even when controlling political orientation and other relevant factors. SIH was also associated with more positive and less negative views of an individual expressing a political viewpoint. Further, SIH moderated the extent to which initial agreement with a political statement resulted in opinion change on the basis of hearing another person's arguments on the topic. These findings may point to ways SIH is relevant to people's attitudes toward others in society.
Many people consider public discourse in the United States to be negative, extremely polarized, and uncivil. People are often angry at those with different viewpoints. This atmosphere can hamper social and political progress and even threaten personal relationships.
Intellectual humility might play a positive role in public discourse. Intellectual humility involves a person's ability to recognize that his or her knowledge, opinions, or beliefs might be wrong. We thought people's levels of humility about their social and political viewpoints and the extent to which they appreciate others' viewpoints would be related to certain attitudes and behaviors relevant to healthy interactions with others.
We conducted an online survey with a national U.S. sample of 852 adults. We measured participants' humility about their social and political viewpoints, how much participants enjoy engaging in political discussions, how tolerant participants are of those with different social and political viewpoints, how much participants want their own social group to dominate other social groups, how much participants value social equality, how participants rate a person expressing a political perspective, and whether participants adjust their own opinion when considering the political viewpoint of another person.
Our results showed that those who were more humble about their social and political viewpoints enjoyed political discussions more and avoided them less. Sociopolitical intellectual humility was also related to participants' attitudes toward others in society. Specifically, being humble about one's social and political viewpoints was related to participants being more politically tolerant of others – even of those they disagreed with most, being less interested in their group socially dominating others, believing more strongly in the equality of all people, and planning to work toward social equality more. Being higher in sociopolitical intellectual humility was also related to forming more positive and less negative opinions of another person expressing a political opinion, regardless of whether the participant agreed or disagreed with the opinion. The way in which participants were impacted by hearing another person's argument on the topic of immigration depended on whether the argument was consistent or inconsistent with a participant's existing viewpoint. If participants' viewpoints already aligned with the opinion, being higher in intellectual humility was related to a greater increase in agreement after hearing the other person's opinion. If participants' viewpoints were inconsistent with the shared opinion, being higher in intellectual humility was related to less increase in agreement after hearing the other person's opinion. The findings were not the result of other factors, such as the participant's political party, religiosity, income, or social desirability tendencies.
The positive link between being humble about one's sociopolitical viewpoints and enjoying engaging in more political discussions suggests that people can both be humble about and care about social and political topics. In addition, we repeatedly observed a connection between sociopolitical intellectual humility and attitudes towards people in society, with a tendency toward being more inclusive and tolerant and viewing others more favorably. This suggests that being humble about one's sociopolitical viewpoints might help individuals engage in public discourse without demanding their own group’s dominance, denying basic rights to opposing groups, or thinking ill of people they disagree with. Finally, we found that being humble about one's sociopolitical views is related to opinion change only when this seems warranted to the individual. Thus, sociopolitical intellectual humility does not seem to make a person easy to manipulate on sociopolitical topics.