A multi-modal, cross-cultural study of the semantics of intellectual humility

AI and Society (forthcoming)
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Intellectual humility can be broadly construed as being conscious of the limits of one’s existing knowledge and capable to acquire more knowledge, which makes it a key virtue of the information age. However, the claim “I am (intellectually) humble” seems paradoxical in that someone who has the disposition in question would not typically volunteer it. There is an explanatory gap between the meaning of the sentence and the meaning the speaker ex- presses by uttering it. We therefore suggest analyzing intellectual humility semantically, using a psycholexical approach that focuses on both synonyms and antonyms of ‘intellectual humili- ty’. We present a thesaurus-based methodology to map the semantic space of intellectual hu- mility and the vices it opposes as a heuristic to support philosophical and psychological anal- ysis of this disposition. We performed the mapping both in English and German in order to test for possible cultural differences in the understanding of intellectual humility. In both lan- guages, we find basically the same three semantic dimensions of intellectual humility (sensi- bility, discreetness, and knowledge dimensions) as well as three dimensions of its related vic- es (self-overrating, other-underrating and dogmatism dimensions). The resulting semantic clusters were validated in an empirical study with English (n=276) and German (n=406) par- ticipants. We find medium to high correlations (0.54-0.72) between thesaurus similarity and perceived similarity, and we can validate the labels of the three dimensions identified in the study. But we also find indications of the limitations of the thesaurus methodology in terms of cluster plausibility. We conclude by discussing the importance of these findings for construct- ing psychometric scales for intellectual humility.

Author Profiles

Brian Robinson
Texas A&M University - Kingsville
Mark Alfano
Macquarie University


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