Research Awards: Intellectual Humility in Public Discourse

Research Awards

Put cutting edge research to work: Our $2 million fellowship grant program funded by the John Templeton Foundation supports innovative projects that explore the broken landscape of public discourse and creating enduring strategies to spur and sustain open-minded, reasonable and well-informed debate and dialogue.

tanesini

How can we discourage arrogance in politics and public discourse?

Project Title:

 

Changing Attitudes in Public Discourse

 

Co-PI. Professor Alessandra Tanesini, Cardiff University

Co-PI. Professor Greg Maio (Psychology, Bath)

 

Research Team Members:

Dr Chris Heffer (Linguistics, Cardiff)

Dr Ian James Kidd (Philosophy, Nottingham)

Dr Jonathan Webber (Philosophy, Cardiff)

 

"We develop and test practical interventions to reduce arrogance in debate. When implemented by institutions such as schools, businesses, government, charities and the media, they will improve the tone and content of public discussions."

 

Political opinions in many Western-style democracies show signs of increasing polarization. This has coincided with a change of tone in debates. Seemingly arrogant behaviors like shouting, mocking, dismissing or rudely interrupting other people during discussions seem more frequent and widespread.

In this multidisciplinary project we develop and test some practical interventions designed to combat these behaviors which we predict are caused by defensive attitudes. We focus on self-affirmation techniques, which help people affirm their self-worth by thinking about the values that matter to them. We will test whether these techniques help to reduce defensiveness, leading to a reduction in intellectual arrogance and to greater humility in debate.

Alessandra Tanesini & Greg Maio (Co-PIs)

 

Smith

Can online news comments sections be designed to promote intellectually humble discourse?

Project Title:

Designing Online News Comments to Promote Intellectual Humility in Public Discourse

 

PI: Professor Graham Smith, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, UK

 

Research Team Members:

Professor Michael Morrell, Political Science, University of Connecticut

Dr Paolo Spada, Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal

 

The public sphere around media outlets offers many examples of dysfunctional behaviours that undermine the quality of public discourse. This is particularly the case with online public comments sections on news sites that attract thousands of people every day. This project aims to explore, through a large-scale field experiment, how representation-centric collaborative platforms and empathy inducement can promote more reason-based, intellectually humble dialogue in online news comments around socially, culturally and politically divisive issues. The field experiment will recruit ordinary citizens who usually read online news and randomly assign them to experience different perspective-taking instructions and platforms that organise and visualise comments in different ways. The project will also field-test a set of measures for investigating intellectual humility in online environments. The aim of the project is to develop a scalable model for how news media institutions, and others, can incorporate comment platforms that promote reason-based, intellectually humble dialogue.

Graham Smith (Principal Investigator)

kennedy

How can we make communication between elected officials and their constituents more constructive and meaningful?

Project Title:

Intellectual Humility and Discursive Participation in Politics: A Field Experiment with Members of Congress and their Constituents

 

PI: Professor Ryan Kennedy, Political Science, University of Houston

 

Research Team Members:

Professor Michael Neblo, Political Science, The Ohio State University

Professor Kevin Esterling, Political Science, University of California, Riverside

Professor David Lazer, Political Science & Computer and information Science, Northeastern University & Harvard University

Professor William Minozzi, Political Science, The Ohio State University

 

"Current methods of communication between Members of Congress and their constituents, including most polling techniques, encourages ill-informed, arrogant, and often counterproductive discourse. We experiment with technological methods for improving information flow and intellectual humility in the communication between constituents and their Members of Congress, to improve public discourse and provide critical information to policy-makers."

 

This study addresses three questions. First, is intellectual humility an important precursor of successful deliberation, and, conversely, is intellectual humility affected by deliberation? Second, to what extent are monological (reasoning within one’s own head) and dialogical (discussion with others) deliberation equivalent? Finally, how can we communicate the results of online deliberation with government officials and can it be incorporated into policy workflow? To address these questions, we partner with several Congressional offices, drawing samples from their districts to participate in either an online deliberation exercise or a survey with information on the issue (immigration) provided in video and written form. We then compare the outcomes of the experimental conditions, relate the results of the representative sample to those of a self-selected (Facebook) sample, and present the results to participating Congressional offices.

Ryan Kennedy (Principal Investigator)

 

alfano

Which online platforms best foster public discourse and how can we improve them?

Project Title:

Scaffolding the media for intellectually humble discourse

 

P.I. Professor Mark Alfano, Philosophy, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

 

Research Team Members

Professor Bettina Speckmann, Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands

Professor Scott Cunningham, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

 

"It seems that everyone is worried about fake news these days. This project aims to diagnose the structural features of online media that make it more or less trustworthy."

 

In the age of the Internet, people have increased access to information along multiple dimensions. However, while there are many accurate sources on the Internet, they must be sifted from the spammers, concern trolls, practical jokers, conspiracy theorists, counterintelligence sock-puppets, and outright liars who also proliferate online. The motivating insight of this project is that, when we learn from online sources, we are vulnerable to invisible injustices committed by the media even when we make efforts to be intellectually humble. This leads us to ask which communication topologies best foster intellectually humble public discourse. We will investigate this question by modeling online public discourse in a range of media about fraught religious, scientific, political, economic, and social issues. Using cutting-edge methods from data science and interactive visualization, we will examine the structure and dynamics of the communication networks in which these fraught issues are discussed and argued over.

Mark Alfano (Principal Investigator)

Dunning

Can people become more receptive to expert opinion?

Project Title:

Epistemic Trespassing in Public Discourse

 

Co-P.I. Professor David Dunning, Psychology, University of Michigan

Co-P.I. Professor Nathan Ballantyne, Philosophy, Fordham University

 

"Public discourse advances when all participants are well-informed.  We seek ways to prompt people to consider the contributions of experts to important public debates."

 

In civil society, public debate should be informed by its experts. Unfortunately, partisans in debate often reject expert opinion or supplant it with their own flawed perspectives. We call this phenomenon epistemic trespassing. Trespassing occurs when individuals or groups move into a debate assuming self-expertise they do not have. It occurs when untrained novices claim knowledge about a field they lack or experts make claims on issues beyond their actual expertise. Our research examines trespassing from both descriptive and normative perspectives. We illuminate the nature of trespassing, what is wrong with it, and methods for mitigating it. Dunning extends his ongoing studies on the identification, acceptance, and rejection of expert opinion. Ballantyne develops new lines of philosophical research on normative problems for trespassers as well as epistemological issues concerning the proper identification of expertise. The research team will also produce a podcast series featuring research on intellectual humility.

David Dunning & Nathan Ballantyne (Co-PIs)

Liz Mancuso

Are religious convictions incompatible with intellectual humility?

Project Title:

Religiosity as a Predictor, Barrier, and Outcome Relative to Intellectually Humble Public Discourse

 

P.I. Professor Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso, Psychology, Pepperdine University

 

Research Team Members

Professor David Lemley, Religion and Philosophy, Pepperdine University

 

By studying how religiosity can promote and undermine intellectual humility and by assessing religious and nonreligious avenues for increasing intellectual humility in public discourse among religious individuals, this project is likely to provide valuable insights and tools for increasing the practice of intellectually humble public discourse."

 

A number of theologians have argued that epistemic humility stems from recognizing one’s relative ignorance in relation to an all-knowing God. As such, religion may provide a foundation for being intellectually humble. Despite this, current and historical events offer counter examples of religious adherents attempting to force their beliefs on others. This project aims to clarify the ambiguity surrounding how religiosity relates to intellectual humility and intellectually humble public discourse.

Our goals are to provide information about:

(1) how intellectual humility can coexist with religious convictions

(2) how specific religious beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors can promote and undermine intellectual humility in public discourse

(3) how certain religious challenges to intellectual humility can be overcome

(4) how religious and secular interventions can be employed to promote intellectual humility in public discourse among religious individuals

(5) some positive social/religious outcomes of intellectual humility in public discourse

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Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso (Principal Investigator)

Fernbach_Sloman

What makes us argue so heatedly over things we know little about?

Project Title:

The Cognitive Basis of Extremism

 

P.I.  Professor Philip Fernbach, Marketing & Cognitive Science, University of Colorado Boulder

 

Research Team Members

Professor Steven Sloman, Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences, Brown University

 

"The intelligence required to understand and act on important social policy questions resides not in any one individual but in a community of knowledge. Improving public discourse is not a matter of better instruction in an effort to turn laypeople into experts, but rather making people aware of their ignorance and of the locus of expertise in the community."

 

Many people have strong convictions about divisive science-based issues like genetic engineering, global warming, and vaccination despite a remarkably shallow understanding of the mechanisms at play. Rather than merely decrying and trying to eliminate the shallowness and apparent ignorance in so much public discourse, we seek to explain it and to channel it in productive ways. We propose that ignorance is a natural part of the human condition. Individuals are ignorant about most things and tend not to appreciate how little they know. The intelligence required to understand and act on important social policy questions resides not in any one individual but in a community of knowledge. Improving public discourse is therefore not a matter of better instruction in an effort to turn laypeople into experts. Rather, it is a matter of making people aware of their ignorance and of the locus of expertise in the community. We propose three sets of studies. The first set of studies attempts to show that knowledge does reside in the community by showing that people fail to distinguish their own knowledge from that of others. The second set of studies targets the false beliefs that are inculcated by a community. Can we reduce hubris and improve public discourse by showing people that their fundamental assumptions are faulty? The third set of studies examines whether encouraging people to go beyond values-based thinking to consider consequences can increase intellectual humility and improve public discourse.

Philip Fernbach (Principal Investigator)

meagher_photo

How can groups and institutions become more humble and open to dialogue?

Project Title:

Collective Intellectual Humility: Investigating When and How Intellectual Humility Enhances Group Outcomes

 

P.I. Professor Benjamin R. Meagher, Psychology, Franklin & Marshall College

 

Research Team

Professor Wade C. Rowatt, Psychology, Baylor University
 
"This work will provide empirical data that can help inform supervisors, instructors, and leaders of what specific types of behaviors improve group functioning, provide them with suggestions for how to form groups best suited for particular cooperative tasks, and make them better equipped to guide discussants toward more effective patterns of interaction."

 

Recent research suggests that successful groups are characterized less by the skills or knowledge possessed by each individual member, and more by how effectively these individuals coordinate and communicate with one another. Over three empirical studies, our project will investigate what role intellectual humility (IH) plays in predicting group performance across a variety of cooperative tasks. This project will target several essential questions related to IH and its role in group behavior. First, we will evaluate when IH improves (or fails to improve) group functioning, in terms of the types of tasks groups regularly engage in (e.g., brainstorming, negotiation, problem solving). Second, we will assess whether IH facilitates functioning directly, or if it influences performance indirectly by allowing groups to benefit from other interpersonal factors, such as diversity. Finally, we will code for the specific, unique behaviors that groups high in IH engage in that ultimately predict successful outcomes.

Benjamin R. Meagher (Principal Investigator)

Sarrouf

Can we teach students to engage in more productive dialogue?

Project Title:

The Dialogic Classroom: Teaching for Humility and Civic Engagement

 

PI: John Sarrouf, Director of Program Development & Strategic Partnerships, Essential Partners (not-for-profit)

 
Team Members

Dr. Lauren Barthold, Philosophy, Senior Researcher, Essential Partners
Professor Ian Deweese-Boyd, Philosophy, Gordon College
Professor Margie Deweese-Boyd, Social Work, Gordon College
Professor Jill DeTemple, Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University
Professor Jonathan Garlick, DDS, Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Studies, Tufts University
Professor Harriett Hayes, Sociology, Bridgewater College

 

 

 

 

Essential Partners, a Boston-based nonprofit with a 26-year history facilitating connective conversations across difference, together with a team of professors from varied disciplines and institutions, will build on past IHPD research to develop a new pedagogy for intellectual humility and the constructive engagement of difference in academia.

Prior IHPD research has established the importance of intellectual humility in creating rigorous, thriving academic cultures. Yet practical questions remain as how to institutions might establish viable methods for shifting classroom cultures. To that end, we will conduct focused research into best practices for humility in discourse, then develop, test, and promote a new pedagogy for instructors to cultivate humility, openness, curiosity, and engagement.

Our team will deliver a study of best practices to humility in the classroom, develop in-depth trainings for faculty, and evaluate the success of our pedagogy adapting available measurements established by noteworthy researchers of intellectual humility (Alfano, et al).

John Sarrouf (Principal Investigator)

Sinnott-Armstrong _photo

Can asking the right questions make political discussion more productive?

Project Title:

Towards a Culture of Questioning: Accountability, Humility, and Public Discourse

 

PI: Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Philosophy, Duke University

 

Team Members

Aaron Ancell, Philosophy, Duke University

Dr. Jordan Carpenter, Psychology, Duke University

Dr. Jesse Summers, Philosophy, Duke University

 

"Ideological disagreements turn antagonistic when opponents cannot understand each other’s perspectives. Our goal is to reduce such polarization by training students to ask questions that lead to mutual appreciation and productive dialogue."

 

Polarization plagues our society. A partial cure might lie in asking the right questions. Some questions make people less arrogant and more open to opposing viewpoints. Other questions fuel defensiveness, rationalization, and division. Our project will investigate which questions in which contexts produce or undermine humility and civil discourse.

We will also explore effects of expecting others to ask us questions. People who expect to be held accountable by challenging questions are less likely to be overconfident or to depend on irrelevant considerations. We hypothesize that people who are regularly asked the right questions will come to expect such interrogation and hence become more humble and more likely to engage in fruitful dialogue with people who disagree with them.

This research will provide the basis for a program to train students and the public to ask the right questions. We hope that such a program will help to reduce polarization.

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Principal Investigator)