Intellectually humble people are more likely to investigate political misinformation
According to a new study published in Bulletin of Personality and Social Psychology. The new study provides evidence for a causal link between intellectual humility and a desire to investigate political misinformation.
Intellectual humility refers to the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge and to accept the possibility of being wrong. People with a high level of intellectual humility tend to be less hostile toward sociopolitical rivals and more motivated to learn new information. The authors of the new study wanted to examine whether the trait could help fight misinformation.
“We are interested in this subject for two reasons: first, political misinformation is an issue that contributes to political division. Therefore, it is important to better understand what predicts people who choose to investigate the information they encounter. Second, it replicates and further clarifies 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 to investigate the relationship between intellectual humility and willingness to investigate politically charged headlines.
In their first study, the researchers randomly assigned 289 participants to view a real or fake headline related to the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot. Additionally, participants were randomly assigned to either investigate the title or continue without investigating.
Koetke and colleagues found that those surveyed tended to report that the true title was much more accurate and the false title was much less accurate, compared to those in the control condition. This was true even after controlling for participants’ attitudes toward Donald Trump and the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot.
“We’ve found that investigating misinformation (fact-checking, examining other viewpoints, etc.) seems to be an effective and quick way to increase our accuracy when viewing articles online,” Koetke said. at PsyPost.
For their second study, the researchers randomly assigned 285 participants to read a fake headline that either agreed or disagreed with their ideology. In other words, some participants read a fake headline that appealed to their political worldview while others read a fake headline that clashed with their political worldview. They were then asked about their likelihood of engaging in investigative behaviors, such as verifying the source of the headline or reading the full article.
Participants who scored higher on a measure of intellectual humility reported a higher likelihood of engaging in inquiry behaviors. This was true for ideologically concordant and discordant titles.
For their third study, Koetke and colleagues sought to test the causal relationship between intellectual humility and investigative behaviors by conducting a randomized experiment with 315 participants.
In the experimental condition, participants answered three seemingly obvious scientific questions that are often answered incorrectly. (For example, one question was “Which mountain peak is farthest from the center of the Earth?” Most people say Mount Everest. But the correct answer is Chimborazo.) They then wrote why it is normal to recognize the limits of his knowledge. .
In the control condition, participants answered three multiple-choice questions about office automation and then wrote down why it is acceptable to use office automation to make work more efficient.
Participants then completed an intellectual humility assessment before reading a fake headline and reporting their likelihood of engaging in inquiry behaviors. The researchers found that participants in the experimental condition tended to score higher on the measure of intellectual humility, which in turn positively predicted investigative behaviors.
“Intellectual humility, or the awareness that our knowledge may be wrong, can play an important role in combating political misinformation. So it’s 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 investigate headlines. But as with any study, the research has some limitations.
“A major caveat is that these studies were all conducted in a controlled setting,” Koetke said. “Therefore, future research should seek to replicate these findings in the real world.”
The study, “The Salience of Fallibility Increases Intellectual Humility: Implications for People’s Willingness to Investigate Political Disinformation,” was authored by Jonah Koetke, Karina Schumann, Tenelle Porter, and Ilse Smilo-Morgan.