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Need to Make a Decision? Try Being Humble

Do you enjoy thinking in new ways?  Are you curious and open to new experiences?  Do you question your own opinions, believing there's a possibility they could be wrong?  If so, there's a good chance you score high in what researchers refer to as Intellectual Humility or IH.

IH essentially refers to how strongly (or not) we cling to our own opinions.  People with high IH tend to be flexible thinkers and more willing to believe their opinions could be wrong.  By contrast, people with low IH are less easily swayed and more inclined to hold tightly to their viewpoints, regardless of evidence.  As you might imagine, those with high IH are more open to changing their mind about an issue than people with low IH.

In the Thrive Global article, Why Humble People Make Better Decisions, writer Drake Baer reports on Duke University research that explains how IH affects decision making.  To scientifically test this issue, researchers asked 400 people to report how often they flossed.  Once they had this information, study participants were asked to read one of two essays that advocated flossing.  The first essay used strong scientific arguments given by dental experts, whereas the second essay relied on weak anecdotal evidence.

After the study was complete, researchers drew 2 main conclusions:

  1. People with high IH rated the first essay as much stronger than the 2nd one.

  2. People who didn't floss frequently were more likely to change their minds about flossing, but only if they were rated as having IH.

The takeaway?  Believing that you don't know everything—and (gasp!), may even be wrong on some topics—can help you make better decisions in the future.  But what if you already know you know everything?

That's when lead researcher, Mark R. Leary, encourages you to think about statistics.  As he puts it, “Probabilistically, wouldn't it be strange if your views were always the right ones?  Wouldn't it be odd if everything you believe is true?”