Thank you for visiting Biola’s Center for Christian Thought. This site is not being updated on a regular basis while we are developing new projects for the future. In the meantime, please continue to enjoy the videos, podcasts and articles currently available on the site.

The Table Video

Peter C. Hill

Humility as Social Lubricant: Humility Works, Arrogance Doesn’t

Professor of Psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
July 2, 2019

Dr. Peter Hill and Dr. Elizabeth Krumrei-Mancuso discuss humility’s role as a foundational virtue, and why we hate arrogance.


We have evidence that we like humble people. People see this as a virtue. Now, it may not always play out as a virtue, but people by-and-large see it as a good characteristic. A classical strength, if you will. And I think that it’s so important, not only because people like it, but because it’s kind of like a social oil, if you will, it greases the interpersonal machinery. When you’re around somebody who’s arrogant, I don’t know about you, but I don’t wanna be around them that much more, I want to avoid avoid them.

Evan: We shut down.

Yeah, we do. We shut down. And that’s not, that’s not conducive to working out problems, that’s not conducive to decision-making, it’s not conducive to running a government, running a company, or running a church.

Yeah, and it allows us to operate only with the images that we’re projecting. It allows to only operate with assuming certain things about ourselves, that might be just false representations. If we’re really concerned with the truth and we think that the truth can in fact be effective, and I would say yes, it’s good that we use facts, and it’s good that we seek truth in all of these societal contexts. Looks like it’s surprising that we’re getting by if we’re so arrogant. Humility might be this absolute essential thing to get people really working together and working with one another. What else do you see, I mean Liz you look at pro-social behavior that kind of emerges from being intellectually humble.

Yeah, absolutely.

I wonder if you’d speak to that?

Yeah, well I think that it is so relevant on all levels, the individual level, but also the interpersonal level. And so one of the things that I was looking at is how intellectual humility relates to being altruistic, being benevolent towards others, having a universal perspective that really values all people and even nature, and being less power-seeking, so having less of a desire to domineer over others, and so intellectual humility was related to all of those things in the directions that you might predict, so being more benevolent, being more altruistic, being less power-seeking, and what it seems like is that that may be occurring through perspective-taking and through empathy.

So both kind of the cognitive and the emotional forms of empathy, having empathetic concern for others, being able to take another person’s perspective, the intellectual humility might be a precursor to those mental abilities and those emotional abilities that have already, for so long, been established as being related to these positive outcomes like being altruistic, helping others, caring about others, putting other people’s needs first. So we know that being empathetic, and also being grateful, so I’d add gratitude in there, being grateful towards others is associated with all of these beneficial interpersonal, pro-social outcomes, and so the question is is intellectual humility kind of a precursor to that, is that kind of the vehicle that allows us to even get to that place where we can take someone else’s perspective by first being humble about our own, realizing that maybe we don’t know it all, realizing that other people have things to offer, help us to be more grateful, to be more empathetic, and then that allows us to, you know, that’s kind of that ripple effect of intellectual humility that then we’re more likely to put other’s needs first, more likely to help others, and engage with others.

It looks like in that sense, humility comes as part of a package, or at least can help us along a path toward a more complete picture of virtuous moral and intellectual character. I like this idea of it being either foundational or perhaps in the middle, or an interconnecting kind of virtue. That it can facilitate open-mindedness on one hand, love on another. Generosity, gratitude, I mean these are all things that, if it’s connected in such a way, then perhaps it is this core virtue that we really need to spend time on.