A Context’s Emphasis on Intellectual Ability Discourages the Expression of Intellectual Humility

Tenelle Porter, Andrei Cimpian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Expressing intellectual humility—admitting confusion, ignorance, and mistakes—can facilitate learning. We hypothesized that contexts that emphasize the importance of intellectual ability for success discourage the expression of intellectual humility. In Studies 1a and 1b, high school students (combined N = 1,449) reported the most difficulty expressing intellectual humility in math—a subject where success is distinctly associated with intellectual ability. Study 2 (preregistered) revealed that young adults (N = 401) were less comfortable expressing intellectual humility in math classes to the extent that they perceived them to emphasize intellectual ability. Study 3 (preregistered) showed that undergraduates (N = 329) were less willing to express intellectual humility in a hypothetical university that emphasized intellectual ability compared to one that did not. This effect wasmediated by the perception that the ability-emphasizing university would have a culture of cutthroat competition (i.e., a “masculinity-contest culture”). To the extent that a context esteems intellectual ability as important for success, expression of intellectual humility will be suppressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-130
Number of pages11
JournalMotivation Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023


  • academic motivation
  • field-specific ability beliefs
  • intellectual humility
  • masculinity-contest culture
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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