Do "Know-It-Alls" Really Know It All?

People who have an exaggerated view of their own IQ — those likely to be dubbed as “know-it-alls” — tend to be more academically successful than their humble counterparts, according to a new study by Baylor University and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

The finding was quite a surprise to the researchers, who had theorized that people with “intellectual humility” would achieve greater success. People with intellectual humility are those with an accurate or moderate view of their own intelligence and who are open to criticism and new ideas.

Instead, the researchers discovered that intellectual arrogance generally predicted academic achievement, especially on individual course work.

“One possibility is that people who view themselves as intellectually arrogant know what they know and that translates to increases in academic performance,” said researcher Wade C. Rowatt, Ph.D., Baylor professor of psychology and neuroscience.

For the study, 103 undergraduate students worked for a full semester in groups of four to six members in upper-level psychology courses. They completed a variety of projects, both individually and together.

Then they took tests; first individually, then with their group members, who gave feedback on each other’s work. Students earned credit for both individual and group performances.

Later, each student completed a questionnaire evaluating the personality of each group member, including themselves. They measured “intellectual humility,” based on such traits as “open to criticism” and “knows what he/she is not good at.” They also measured “intellectual arrogance,” based on such traits as “is close-minded” and “believes own ideas superior to others’ ideas.”

Additional traits also were evaluated, among them assertiveness, intelligence, self-discipline, openness, and sense of humor. Many who rated themselves high in humility also rated themselves high on such virtues as competence, agreeableness, and leadership.

Groups tended to view people as intellectually arrogant whom they saw as being high in dominance, extraversion, and wanting to be the center of attention, but low in agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Participants in the long-term groups were able to reach a statistically significant consensus about how they viewed a person, researchers said.

That was in contrast to another portion of the research, in which 135 participants (who did not know one another) spent only about 45 minutes together, sharing their strengths and weaknesses, brainstorming about a theoretical scenario in which they had extra fingers, working together on math and verbal questions and discussing their results. In this case, participants did not reach consensus about others’ intellectual humility or arrogance.

“If people are forming opinions about extraversion and someone talks a lot, it’s easy to draw consensus about that person,” said lead author Benjamin R. Meagher, Ph.D., now a visiting assistant professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “But it’s more challenging for groups to recognize what behavior reveals another person’s humility, as opposed to simply being shy or unsure.”

The researchers still emphasize the importance of intellectual humility in terms of learning new things, personal growth, and social ties.

“What I think is important about intellectual humility is its a necessity for not only science, but for just learning generally — and that applies to the classroom, a work setting, wherever,” Meagher said.

“Learning something new requires first acknowledging your own ignorance and being willing to make your ignorance known to others. People clearly differ in terms of their willingness to do something like that, but that willingness to learn, change one’s mind, and value the opinion of others is really needed if people and groups are going to develop and grow.”

The paper is published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

Source: Baylor University