According to new research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin† The new study provides evidence for a causal link between intellectual humility and the desire to investigate political misinformation.
Intellectual humility refers to the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge and accept the possibility of being wrong. People with a high degree of intellectual humility tend to be less hostile to their sociopolitical rivals and more motivated to learn new information. The authors of the new study were interested in investigating whether the trait could help fight misinformation.
“We were interested in this topic for two reasons: First, political misinformation is an issue that contributes to political division. That’s why it’s important to better understand what predicts people will choose to research the information they encounter. Second, it replicates and further clarifies the findings we reported in a paper last year,” said study author Jonah Koetke, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh.
Koetke and his colleagues conducted a series of three studies examining the relationship between intellectual humility and willingness to examine politically charged news headlines.
In their first study, the researchers randomly assigned 289 participants to see a real or fake headline linked to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. In addition, the participants were randomly assigned to either examine the headline or proceed without examining.
Koetke and his colleagues found that those instructed to investigate tended to report that the real head was significantly more accurate and the fake head significantly less accurate, compared to those in the control condition. This was true even after controlling for participants’ attitudes toward Donald Trump and the January 6 Capitol riot.
“We found that investigating misinformation (checking facts, looking at alternative points of view, etc.) appears to be an effective and non-time-consuming way to increase our accuracy when viewing articles online,” Koetke told PsyPost.
For their second study, the researchers randomly assigned 285 participants to read a fake headline that was in line with or contrary to their ideology. In other words, some participants read a false headline that appealed to their political worldview, while others read a false headline that clashed with their political worldview. They were then asked about their likelihood of engaging in research behavior, such as checking the source of the headline or reading the full article.
Participants who scored higher on a measure of intellectual humility reported a greater chance of engaging in research behavior. This was true for both ideologically similar and discordant headlines.
For their third study, Koetke and his colleagues sought to test the causal relationship between intellectual humility and research behavior by conducting a randomized experiment with 315 participants.
In the experimental condition, the participants answered three seemingly obvious science-related questions that were often answered incorrectly. (For example, one question was, “Which mountaintop is furthest from the center of the Earth?” Most people say Mount Everest. But the correct answer is Chimborazo.) Then they wrote why it’s okay to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge. .
In the control condition, participants answered three multiple choice questions about office technology and then wrote why it is okay to use office technology to make work more efficient.
The participants then completed an intellectual humility assessment before reading a false headline and reporting on their likelihood of engaging in research behavior. The researchers found that participants in the experimental condition scored higher on degrees of intellectual humility, which in turn was a positive predictor of research behavior.
“Intellectual humility, or the realization that our knowledge may be wrong, can play an important role in combating political misinformation. It is therefore important to be humble in our own knowledge,” Koetke told PsyPost.
The researchers controlled for a number of variables — such as education, open-mindedness and political orientation — that could potentially influence the relationship between intellectual humility and willingness to research news headlines. But as with any study, the research has some limitations.
“One important caveat is that these studies were all conducted in a controlled environment,” Koetke said. “Therefore, future research should try to replicate these findings in the real world.”
The study, “Fallibility Salience Increases Intellectual Humility: Implications for People’s Willingness to Investigate Political Misinformation,” was authored by Jonah Koetke, Karina Schumann, Tenelle Porter and Ilse Smilo-Morgan.