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The University of Southampton

Intellectual arrogance and humility to be explored

Published: 11 March 2013

A new grant will enable researchers in Psychology explore what factors promote arrogance or humility.

People are often but not always rational.
One way in which they are often not rational is that they are intellectually arrogant. As an impediment to rationality, it is important to understand the psychological basis of intellectual arrogance.

What is the best way to conceptualize the vice of intellectual arrogance and its converse the virtue of intellectual humility?
Can they broadly predicted on the basis of people's social position, self-perception, or behavioral tendencies?

These are the two issues this new research will explore.

The research, led by Dr Aiden Gregg, will be primarily conducted and analyzed by Research Assistant, Ms. Nikhila Mahadevan, a final-year PhD student in Psycholgy at the University of Southampton.

The research has two aims; firstly to build a conception of intellectual arrogance and intellectual humility that is rooted in evolution.

The basic idea is that people evolved from creatures who competed for scarce physical resources.
As a result, people still have a tendency, which can be stronger or weaker, to experience even their non-physical beliefs as valued possessions or personal territory. 
Dr Gregg explains, "As a result, having a belief refuted often feels like theft, and having a belief spread often feels like enrichment. This leads people to engage in argumentation, not for the purpose of arriving at truth, but with the purpose of prevailing against opponents, who challenge or resist their beliefs. By doing so, they strive to protect their beliefs like they would possessions, or expand their beliefs like they would territory. We define arrogance as persisting in a belief merely because it is one's own, because it is felt to belong to oneself, and define humility as the absence of such a tendency."

Secondly, the research aims to predict arrogance or humility, so defined. The goal is to try to do so very generally:

First, people can be more or less agentic, in social position, self-perception, or behavioral orientation.
That is, they be high or low in social status, self-perceived competence, or behavioral dominance.

Second, people can be more or less communal, in social position, self-perception, or behavioral orientation.
That is, they can be high or low in social inclusion, self-perceived warmth, or behavioral agreeableness.

Their prediction is that people who are high in agency but low in inclusion will manifest the highest degree of intellectual arrogance.
This will be so at all levels of analysis.

The research will be carried out by running online surveys to test for the predicted correlation links and laboratory studies to test for the predicted causal links.

They will aso measure arrogance in several different ways. These ways will assess the extent to which people hold beliefs without regard to the strength of the evidence for or against them, just because they one's own.

They are also developing a questionnaire to measure arrogance and humility in the content of the research.

The research is funded by the Fuller Theological Seminary's School of Psychology, the Travis Research Institute, and the Thrive Center, under the ultimate auspices of the John Templeton Foundation in the USA.

The research is due to run for two years from May 2013.

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