I’m always right.
Perhaps you too are always right.
And yet, if we disagree with each other, then one of us must be wrong.
Researchers Tenelle Porter and Karina Schumann wonder: how can we help those who disagree learn from each other?
In a recent study, they explore the topic of intellectual humility.
Intellectual humility starts with a “non-threatening awareness of one’s intellectual fallibility.” Porter and Schumann also focus on a “willingness to appreciate others’ intellectual strengths.”
In brief, I will benefit more from our disagreement if
a) I know I might have something to learn, and
b) I think you might have something to teach me.
How can we help our students think this way?
Familiar Paths, New Destinations
To promote intellectual humility, Porter and Schumann turned to Dweck’s theory of Mindset.
As you know, people with a growth mindset tend to believe they can get smarter if they do the right kind of mental work.
P&S reasoned that such folks might be more open to rethinking their opinions.
To test this idea, they turned to a familiar Mindset research technique.
They gave about 50 students an article “proving” that intelligence can be developed. Another 50 got a similar article “proving” that intelligence doesn’t change.
In other words: they encouraged the first group to adopt a growth mindset perspective. The second group, having seen that intelligence can’t change, would more likely adopt a fixed mindset perspective.
Sure enough, students in the growth mindset reading group more readily admitted mistakes that they made. They more often complimented others for being smart. They more actively sought out critical feedback. And they more quickly rejected the idea that people who disagreed with them must be wrong.
Put simply, a growth mindset promoted intellectual humility.
First, whenever we return to mindset research, we should remember that fixed and growth mindsets are NOT set parts of our personality. They are responses to particular conditions.
All of us have a fixed mindset responses at some times, and growth mindset responses at others.
In this case, as you recall, the researchers caused students to adopt one perspective or the other simply by reading a brief article.
We can easily fall into the trap of dividing people into two enduring mindset groups. However, we all belong to both groups.
Second: the topic of “intellectual humility” is quite new. Although this early research sounds quite intriguing, we should expect to discover complexity — even contradiction — as the field develops further.
In the meanwhile, we can be glad to know that — in addition to all the other good things it does — a growth mindset helps students enter life’s inevitable disagreements with a greater likelihood of learning.