When asked to sum up the political landscape in the U.S. in a word, 79% of Americans expressed a negative view, with “divisive” and “polarized” among the most common choices (Pew Research Center, 2023). With the 2024 election approaching, the impact of polarization is evident from the struggles to reach bipartisan resolutions in Congress to the strain of clashing political beliefs adversely affecting families. Across the nation, people are actively seeking solutions to the pressing question: What can we do to stop this growing polarization?

Scientists have found that having intellectual humility – an awareness of gaps in our own knowledge – can mitigate the deepening political divide. In other words, acknowledging that we do not know everything or are informed of “all sides of the story.” Recently researchers gathered data from a series of five surveys over ten months, starting the day before the 2020 election and concluding in July 2021. They found that, on average, people with higher levels of intellectual humility were more inclined to engage across party lines and had more diverse social networks in terms of political beliefs.

What does this mean in practice? For those of us who wish to bridge the divide, practicing intellectual humility can help disrupt the “right-versus-wrong” mentality that is prevalent in our current political landscape. On a boarder scale, the authors encouraged incorporating educational programs focusing on enhancing intellectual humility and other intellectual virtues, ultimately moving our society in a more collaborative direction.  

Citations: Sgambati, T. J., & Ayduk, O. N. (2023). Intellectual humility and political polarization: An exploration of social networks, attitudes, and affect. Political Psychology, 44(4), 807-828.  https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12890