Intellectual humility and saying "I don’t know" is more common among intelligent people.

Intellectual humility and saying "I don't know" is more common among intelligent people.

Having the insight and honesty to say that you are ignorant or inexperienced on a topic is more common among intelligent people .

A recent study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology supports this popular idea: that it is precisely ignorance (ignorance about one’s own ignorance) that makes us bold when speaking on any subject.


A team led by Elizabeth Krumrei-Mancuso has shown that intellectual humility is correlated with superior general knowledge. This is a logical result because, as the researchers write, ‘simply put, learning requires the humility to realize that one has something to learn’.

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Krumrei-Mancuso and her colleagues conducted five studies in total, trying to discover more about the links between intellectual humility and the acquisition of knowledge; between intellectual humility and meta-knowledge (perception of one’s own knowledge); and, finally, between intellectual humility and other styles of thought .

Some studies included a shorter questionnaire that assessed being a ‘know-it-all’ (by agreeing or disagreeing with statements such as’ I know almost everything there is to know ‘) and intellectual openness (by agreeing or disagreeing with statements such as’ I can learn from other people ‘); While other studies used a more comprehensive and recently developed 22-item measure that incorporates questions about cognitions, emotions, and behaviors representative of intellectual humility (such as accepting criticism of important self-beliefs; being ready to change your mind; and respect for the views of others).

This use of different measures allows a more complete and varied assessment of intellectual humility, but also prevents comparison between studies .

In terms of knowledge, higher scores in intellectual humility were less likely to claim knowledge they did not have (the researchers tested this by assessing the willingness of participants to claim familiarity with completely fictitious facts that they could not possibly know), and also tended to underestimating your performance on a test of cognitive ability.

Other thinking styles and constructs that correlated with greater intellectual humility included being more inclined to reflective thinking, having a more ‘need for cognition’ (enjoying hard thinking and problem solving), greater curiosity, and open thinking. More intellectual humility was also associated with viewing other people’s beliefs less as inferior to your own .