Intellectual Humility Endnotes

About these endnotes

This is where we provide references and in-depth information about everything in the Intellectual Humility Playbook.


We honor and thank the scientists whose research inspired this Playbook. Any errors or omissions are ours.

How we define this strength

Intellectual humility comes from the realization that in all there is to know and understand, what you know, perceive, and understand is only part of the larger whole. In other words, it involves recognizing that you might be wrong about some things (Leary et al., 2017).

Intellectual humility is not the same as modesty, which focuses on not drawing a lot of attention to yourself and your accomplishments. Rather, intellectual humility is recognizing and “owning” your intellectual limitations (Whitcomb et al., 2017). Being high in intellectual humility does not mean you have low confidence in your IQ or low self-esteem. In fact, sometimes intellectual humility is easier to find in those with higher confidence and self-esteem (Porter & Schumann, 2018).

You can be very intellectually humble about some things, but not others (Hoyle et al., 2016), and it can be especially hard to have intellectual humility when you’re in a disagreement with someone (Zachry et al., 2018). But the trick is to develop a general tendency towards being intellectually humble. Research suggests this is possible and that doing so can help you remain open, even in disagreements (Leary et al., 2017; Krumrei-Mancuso & Rouse, 2016).

Some scientists argue that intellectual humility requires valuing others’ insights as well as acknowledging your own limitations (Porter & Schumann, 2018). For example, you might recognize that you know very little about climate change, but true intellectual humility about this issue would require you to also value the insights others have about this topic. Regardless, acknowledging our own limitations on average helps us value others, feel grateful for them, and listen to them more deeply (Krumrei-Mancuso, 2017).

When we set out upon the search for truth

From a speech delivered by Mary McLeod Bethune to the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in Chicago on September 9, 1935. Bethune was one of the most important African-American educators and civil and women’s rights leaders of the twentieth century.

Why does intellectual humility matter?

In Apology, Plato praises Socrates as the wisest because he does not claim to know what he does not know. The legacy of viewing intellectual humility as essential to wisdom is long and continues today. For recent empirical research on this topic, see Kross & Grossmann, 2012 and Grossmann & Kross, 2014. For a philosophical take, check out Valerie Tiberius’s work.

Intellectual humility is a relatively new field of study in empirical psychology, but emerging research links it to a host of positive outcomes. Those higher in intellectual humility are higher in actively open-minded thinking (Krumrei-Mancuso & Rouse, 2016), are more tolerant of religious beliefs that differ from theirs and more charitable towards those holding these beliefs (Leary et al., 2017; Hopkin, Hoyle, Toner, 2014), evaluate balanced arguments more favorably than biased ones (Leary et al., 2017), are not as punitive of those who change their views (Leary et al., 2017), are more open to hearing out opposing socio-political views and actually seek out opposing perspectives to a greater extent than those lower in intellectual humility (Porter & Schumann, 2017). Those with higher intellectual humility are also more grateful, empathic, and altruistic (Krumrei-Mancuso, 2016).

Pulse Check

These items were taken from the Intellectual Humility Scale developed by Leary and colleagues, 2017.

Growth mindset and intellectual humility

When you’re in a growth frame of mind—believing your intelligence can be developed and improved—it’s a lot easier to admit what you don’t know. That’s because acknowledging what you don’t know has no bearing on your level of intelligence; rather, it allows you to learn something new and grow smarter (Porter & Schumann, 2018).

You think you know more than you do

For whatever reason, people tend to overestimate their knowledge and abilities (Rozenblitz & Keil, 2002; Kruger & Dunning, 1999). You may feel like you know things that you actually don’t know very well (Rozenblitz & Keil, 2002). Exposing this “illusion of understanding” by trying to explain in detail how simple things work (e.g., how does a zipper work) can help correct for this overestimation. But, it’s key to explain how things work, rather than give reasons for why you think you know something; when you do the latter, you might be making the illusion of understanding even worse (Fernbach et al., 2013).

Similarly, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, or imagining a scenario from a far away perspective, can help correct for the knowledge illusion. When you distance yourself, you become more aware of other possible perspectives on a problem (Kross & Grossmann, 2012).


Fernbach, P. M., Rogers, T., Fox, C. R., & Sloman, S. A. (2013). Political extremism is supported by an illusion of understanding. Psychological Science, 24(6), 939-946.

Grossmann, I., & Kross, E. (2014). Exploring solomon’s paradox: Self-distancing eliminates the self-other asymmetry in wise reasoning about close relationships in younger and older adults. Psychological Science, 25(8), 1571-1580.

Hopkin, C. R., Hoyle, R. H., & Toner, K. (2014). Intellectual humility and reactions to opinions about religious beliefs. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42, 50-61.

Kross, E., & Grossmann, I. (2012). Boosting wisdom: Distance from the self enhances wise reasoning, attitudes, and behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141, 43-48.

Kruger J., & Dunning D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 177, 1121-1134.

Krumrei-Mancuso, E. J., & Rouse, S. V. (2016). The development and validation of the Comprehensive Intellectual Humility Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 98(2), 209-221.

Leary, M. R., Diebels, K. J., Davisson, E. K., Jongman-Sereno, K. P., Isherwood, J. C., Raimi, K. T., Deffler, S. A., & Hoyle, R. H. (2017). Cognitive and interpersonal features of intellectual humility. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(6), 793-813.

Porter, T. & Schumann, K. (2018). Intellectual humility and openness to the opposing view. Self and Identity, 17, 139-162.

Rozenblit, L., & Keil, F. (2002). The misunderstood limits of folk science: An illusion of explanatory depth. Cognitive Science, 92, 1–42.

Whitcomb, D., Battaly, H., Baerh, J., & Howard-Snyder, D. (2017). Intellectual humility: Owning our limitations. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 94(3), 509-539.

Zachry, C. E., Phan, L. V., Blackie, L., & Jayawickreme, E. (2018) Situation-based contingencies underlying wisdom-content manifestations: Examining intellectual humility in daily life. Journals of Gerontology Series B, 73(8).