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Just Do It: Acknowledge Your Mistakes

Admitting Ignorance Can Enhance Your Intelligence

A recent series of studies conducted at Pepperdine University revealed that individuals who openly admit to not knowing the answer to a question tend to possess greater knowledge. This research focused on a trait known as intellectual humility, which involves having the self-awareness and honesty to acknowledge one’s lack of expertise on a particular subject.

Intellectual humility differs from general humility, which refers to recognizing one’s own limitations. Past studies have linked general humility to improved academic performance and higher grades, likely because acknowledging one’s need for further learning facilitates the absorption of new information.

Intellectual humility, on the other hand, pertains more to recognizing intellectual shortcomings and accepting the fallibility of one’s opinions and ideas. Being intellectually humble means being receptive to new information and exhibiting a healthy detachment from ego and intellect, as suggested by the researchers behind the recent study.

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The study involved close to 1,200 participants who underwent cognitive ability assessments, predictions of their abilities, and evaluations of their levels of intellectual humility through questionnaires. By employing various psychological scales and models, the researchers concluded that intellectual humility was consistently associated with broader general knowledge.

While intellectually humble individuals may not possess superior cognitive abilities, they tend to have more knowledge than their less humble counterparts. The researchers suggest that this knowledge advantage stems from humility prompting actions that facilitate learning, such as reflective thinking, intellectual curiosity, and openness to new ideas.

The findings indicate that as people acquire more knowledge, they tend to exhibit higher levels of intellectual humility. This reciprocal relationship suggests a strong connection between humility and knowledge, although it remains unclear which aspect influences the other.


The key takeaway from this study is that fostering curiosity can be beneficial, especially considering the vastness of the world and the impossibility of knowing everything. Therefore, when faced with a question you cannot answer, simply admitting, “I don’t know,” may actually enhance others’ perception of your intelligence.

For further insights on this study and similar stories, watch the video above.

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