Greater intellectual humility is associated with reduced political bias

People rich in intellectual humility are less likely to exhibit a type of partisan thinking known as myside bias, according to new research published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“I was interested in this topic because polarization and partisan animosity are always on the rise,” said study author Shauna M. Bowes, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Emory University. “Understanding the extent to which people systematically favor their own political parties and political views, and whether certain constructs can mitigate this bias, seems to be of utmost importance. I have long been interested in intellectual humility and its potential importance in domains such as political polarization, so I was eager to examine whether this would be related to less political bias on my side.”

In the study, 975 participants completed a battery of psychological assessments, which included three measures of intellectual humility. Those with high intellectual humility agreed with statements such as “I am open to revising my important beliefs in the face of new information” and “I recognize the value of opinions different from mine”.

The researchers used several different tasks to examine my side’s partisan bias. For example, participants indicated whether they felt that a Democratic candidate and a Republican candidate who had previously supported a certain position but now supported the opposite position were guilty of “turning around.” Participants also read about a presidential debate in which candidates inadvertently made false statements and indicated whether each candidate’s mistake was forgivable.

Bowes and his colleagues found that intellectual humility correlated negatively with political bias. In other words, participants who scored higher on measures of intellectual humility were more likely to provide similar ratings for Democratic and Republican candidates.

In addition, participants read the resumes of two students and choose one to win a $30,000 scholarship. One candidate was described as being the President of the Young Republicans, while the other was the President of the Young Democrats. Republican participants received curriculums in which the Democratic student had a higher GPA than the Republican student, while Democratic participants received curriculums in which the Republican student had a higher GPA than the Democratic student. The researchers found that intellectually humble participants were more likely to choose the student based on academic performance.

Bowes and his colleagues also found that intellectually humble participants were less likely to belittle the personal attributes of those with whom they disagreed and were more likely to choose to read news articles that contradicted their preexisting views.

“Intellectual humility is related to less political bias,” Bowes told PsyPost. “What this means is that the tendency to question someone else’s views is related to a lower likelihood of (a) systematically preferring political arguments that support their own point of view, (b) systematically favoring the same information when it comes from their own political party, (c) more willingness to learn from people outside their political party, and (d) greater willingness to seek non-confirmatory political information. Intellectual humility could be an intriguing target for future interventions aimed at lessening political bias on my side.”

Associations did not differ significantly between Republican and Democratic participants, and the link between intellectual humility and reduced bias was maintained even when political beliefs were held with great conviction. But the study, like all research, includes some limitations.

“First, our study was correlational, so we cannot say that intellectual humility causes less political bias,” Bowes explained. “In this line, the mechanisms that sustain the relationship between intellectual humility and political prejudice are still not clear. For example, is intellectual humility related to less political bias vis-à-vis less out-group anger, more motivation to be precise, or more empathy? Finally, we do not recruit political extremists, so it would be important to verify that our findings generalize to those who are most committed to their political views.”

“While everyone is susceptible to decision-making biases and hostility from outside groups, it is essential to understand the psychological factors, such as intellectual humility, that make some people less susceptible than others,” Bowes added. “This study, along with others like it, represents important first steps on the path to lessening these prejudices and hostilities.”

The study, “Stepping Outside the Echo Chamber: Is Intellectual Humility Associated With Less Political Myside Bias?”, was authored by Shauna M. Bowes, Thomas H. Costello, Caroline Lee, Stacey McElroy-Heltzel, Don E. Davis, and Scott O. Lilienfeld.

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