The psychological roots of intellectual humility: The role of intelligence and cognitive flexibility

DSA ADS Course - 2021

Psychological roots of intellectual humility: The role of intelligence and cognitive flexibility

Human Decision Making, Intelligence, Cognitive Flexibility, Confirmation Bias, Intellectual Humility

Cognitive flexibility and having a diverse toolbox of conceptual frameworks is critical to high performance data science. Humility is important to admitting error and self correcting in near real-time situations.

Cognitive flexibility and humility is magic sauce to avoiding and mitigating confirmation bias and optimal decision-making.


Intellectual humility has been identified as a character virtue that allows individuals to recognize their own potential fallibility when forming and revising attitudes. Intellectual humility is therefore essential for avoiding confirmation biases when reasoning about evidence and evaluating beliefs. The present study investigated the cognitive correlates of intellectual humility. The results indicate that cognitive flexibility, measured with objective behavioural assessments, predicted intellectual humility. Intelligence was also predictive of intellectual humility. These relationships were particularly pronounced for the facets of intellectual humility associated with respect for opposing opinions and openness to revising one's attitudes in light of new evidence. The data revealed an interaction: high cognitive flexibility is particularly valuable for intellectual humility in the context of low intelligence, and reciprocally, high intelligence was beneficial for intellectual humility in the context of low flexibility. Notably, there was evidence of a compensatory effect, as participants who scored highly on both flexibility and intelligence did not exhibit superior intellectual humility relative to individuals who scored highly on only one of these cognitive traits. These findings are suggestive of dual psychological pathways to intellectual humility; either cognitive flexibility or intelligence are sufficient for high intellectual humility, but neither is necessary.

Resource Type: