People high in intellectual humility are less likely to display a type of partisan thinking known as myside bias, according to new research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“I was interested in this topic because polarization and partisan animosity are at all time highs,” said study author Shauna M. Bowes, a clinical psychology doctoral student at Emory University. “Understanding the extent to which people systematically favor their own political party and political viewpoints, and whether certain constructs can mitigate this bias, seems to be of the 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 it would be related to less political myside bias.”
In the study, 975 participants completed a battery of psychological assessments, which included three measures of intellectual humility. Those high in 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 in opinions that are different from my own.”
The researchers used several different tasks to examine partisan myside bias. For example, participants indicated whether they thought a Democratic candidate and a Republican candidate who had previously supported a particular position but now supported the opposite position were guilty of “flip-flopping.” Participants also read about a presidential debate in which candidates inadvertently made false statements and indicated whether each candidates’ mistake was forgivable.
Bowes and her colleagues found that intellectual humility negatively correlated with political myside biases. In other words, participants who scored higher on the measures of intellectual humility were more likely to provide similar ratings for the Democratic and Republican candidates.
In addition, participants read two students’ résumés 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 résumés in which the Democratic student had a higher GPA than the Republican student, while Democratic participants received résumés in which the Republican student had a higher GPA than the Democratic student. The researchers found that intellectually humble participants were more likely to pick the student based on academic achievement.
Bowes and her colleagues also found that intellectually humble participants were less likely to derogate the personal attributes of those they disagreed with and were more likely to choose to read news articles that contradicted their preexisting views.
“Intellectual humility is related to less political myside bias,” Bowes told PsyPost. “What this means is that the tendency to question one’s viewpoints is related to a lower likelihood of (a) systematically preferring political arguments that support your own viewpoint, (b) systematically favoring the same information when it comes from your own political party, (c) more of a willingness to learn from those outside your political party, and (d) more of a willingness to seek out disconfirmatory political information. Intellectual humility may be an intriguing target for future intervention working aiming to lessen political myside bias.”
The associations did not significantly differ across Republican and Democratic participants, and the link between intellectual humility and reduced myside bias held 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 myside bias,” Bowes explained. “Along these lines, the mechanisms undergirding the relations between intellectual humility and political myside bias are still unclear. For instance, is intellectual humility related to less political myside bias vis-à-vis less outgroup anger, more motivation to be accurate, or more empathy? Finally, we did not recruit political extremists, so it would be important to ascertain whether our findings generalize to those who are most committed to their political viewpoints.”
“Although everyone is susceptible to decision-making biases and outgroup hostility, 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, represent the first important steps along the path to lessening these biases 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.