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Intellectual humility is about being open to changing your mind. tomertu/Shutterstock

A personal tale of intellectual humility – and the rewards of being open-minded

With unlimited information at our fingertips and dozens of platforms on which to share our opinions, it can sometimes feel like we’re supposed to be experts in everything. It can be exhausting.

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, we talk to a psychologist whose research and experiences of intellectual humility have taught him that acknowledging what we don’t know is as important as asserting what we do know.

To Daryl Van Tongeren, the pressure to be right all the time is an “unassailably tall order”. He believes that we’re living in a moment where even when people make mistakes, apologize and say they’ve changed their minds, it isn’t good enough.

We demand perfection. Not only perfection now but also perfection in one’s past and perfection in one’s future.

Van Tongeren is a psychology researcher at Hope College in Michigan in the U.S. who conducts research into the concept of intellectual humility. He explains it as something that happens both within us – “our ability to admit and own our cognitive limitations” – and in our relationships with others. “It means being able to present my ideas or interact with someone in a way that’s nondefensive,” he says.

Overall, if somebody is intellectually humble, they are willing to be open-minded enough to revise their beliefs if presented with sufficiently strong evidence.

Van Tongeren’s own experience of family tragedy meant that he had to address these questions head-on in his late 20s.

All of a sudden I found myself having to try to make sense of what seemed like this senseless suffering. And so it really plunged me into this period of questioning everything, questioning some of the deep beliefs that I’d held and been taught since I was very, very young.

Listen to The Conversation Weekly podcast to hear Daryl Van Tongeren talking about his personal journey of intellectual humility, as well as explain the latest research on how to nurture it. The episode also includes an interview with Maggie Villiger, senior science and technology editor at The Conversation in the U.S.

Read more articles from our series on intellectual humility.

A transcript of this episode is now available.

This episode of The Conversation Weekly was written and produced by Katie Flood, with assistance from Mend Mariwany. Gemma Ware is the executive producer. Sound design was by Eloise Stevens, and our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. Stephen Khan is our global executive editor, Alice Mason runs our social media and Soraya Nandy does our transcripts.

You can find us on X, formerly known as Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also subscribe to The Conversation’s free daily email here.

Listen to The Conversation Weekly via any of the apps listed above, download it directly via our RSS feed or find out how else to listen here.

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