Teach pupils the virtue of humility ‘to help them make smart decisions’

by Oliver Moody, The Times

The virtue of intellectual humility should be taught in schools, according to psychologists, who have found that it makes people more accurate in their judgments.

Willingness to admit that we may be wrong seems to allow us to weigh evidence more fairly and to appraise others more kindly, the research suggests.

Mark Leary, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, said that most people tended to be too confident that they were right. Studies suggest that we place about 20 per cent too much faith in our opinions about the world.

“Put simply, intellectual humility [IH] is the degree to which people accept the possibility that their beliefs and attitudes might be wrong,” he said. “At the high end of the trait are people who recognise that their beliefs are fallible and thus are willing to consider the possibility that they are incorrect.

“At the low end of the IH dimension are people who are generally convinced that their views are correct. Of course, most of us lie somewhere in between.”

He and his colleagues carried out four experiments in which 1,089 people initially were assessed with a new psychometric test designed to rate their intellectual modesty. They were asked to state how much they agreed with statements such as “I recognise the value in opinions that are different from my own” and “In the face of conflicting evidence I am open to changing my opinions”.

The results of a series of subsequent tasks, published in the Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin, show that people who scored highly for this quality were less likely to accuse politicians who changed their minds of “flip-flopping” and were more inclined to appreciate facts over opinions.

Atheists and liberals tended to be about as modest as religious people and political conservatives.

The scientists have yet to discover any obvious downsides to intellectual humility, although it is possible that the arrogant may get further in life by the simple expedient of never being around to take the blame for fiascos they create.

“I think performance in most jobs would be helped by keeping in mind that one might be wrong,” Professor Leary said. “Any time consequential decisions need to be made, overconfidence is a recipe for disaster, so people who consider all angles and solicit divergent viewpoints should facilitate better decisions.”

The findings are already being put into practice at the Intellectual Virtues Academy in Long Beach, California, a middle school founded by Jason Baehr, the philosopher, who has collaborated extensively with the Duke researchers.

“The first step is to convince people that what they believe might be incorrect,” Professor Leary said. “One way to do this is to point out to people that it would be quite unusual and very unlikely if, every time their beliefs or attitudes disagreed with other people’s views, their beliefs were the ones that were correct. What’s the possibility that, in every disagreement I have, I’m the one who’s always right?”

• The decision to force teenagers who fail to achieve at least a C grade in GCSE English and maths to retake the exams has been criticised by Ofsted’s new chief inspector. Amanda Spielman said that the policy was “well-intentioned” but was causing “significant problems”. In a speech, she argued that while literacy and maths were important, retaking exams may not be the “right way forward”.

Read the article: Moody, O. (2017, March 18). Teach pupils the virtue of humility ‘to help them make smart decisions’. The Times. Retreived from http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/teach-pupils-the-virtue-of-humility-to-help-them-make-smart-decisions-hdbn7cvmv

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