Researchers define intellectual humility, most simply, as “the degree to which people recognize that their beliefs might be wrong.” It involves knowing that your knowledge is only partial and that your beliefs and opinions are fallible because of your psychological biases and because the evidence supporting them could be limited or flawed.
“Of course, it rarely feels like our beliefs are wrong, and we must usually behave as if our beliefs are true or else we’ll be paralyzed by uncertainty,” writes researcher Mark Leary. “But people who are high in intellectual humility keep in mind that whatever they believe to be true could be wrong and, thus, they might need to revise their views at any time.”
According to one of Leary’s studies, people high in intellectual humility are very concerned with the quality of the evidence for opinions. Another study suggests that intellectually humble people will spend more effort reading about viewpoints counter to their own, and they’re much more interested in understanding why people might disagree with them. People who are high in intellectual humility score higher in epistemic curiosity, which is the motivation to pursue new knowledge and ideas.
It’s important to note that intellectual humility is just one form of humility. Humility in general involves an ability to see your limitations as well as your strengths and to have an accurate perspective on your relative importance in the world. Other forms of humility include cultural humility, which starts with acknowledging the biases created by our backgrounds and experiences; we can also be humble about our skills or abilities. Intellectual humility is the form of humility centering on our knowledge, beliefs, opinions, and intelligence.