An article published in The Journal of Positive Psychology has researchers suggesting that humble people are more likely to be helpful than those with less humility.

Lead author Jordan LaBouff, Ph.D., a lecturer in psychology at the University of Maine said:

“The findings are surprising because in nearly 30 years of research on helping behavior, very few studies have shown any effect of personality variables on helping … The only other personality trait that has shown any effect is agreeableness, but we found that humility predicted helping over and above that.”

Wade Rowatt Ph.D. professor of neuroscience at Baylor University, who led and co-authored the study, said that a decision to help someone out, was mainly influenced by circumstantial issues, such as time pressure, number of bystanders, momentary feelings of empathy, or a person’s own distress.

The research was carried out with three studies of college students. First the student were asked to evaluate themselves, and those that reported being humble also reported being more helpful. The researchers statistically controlled other factors such as agreeableness to balance the results.

However people are prone to exaggerate and over or under report their own personal traits. So the later research attempted to balance out this problem in the data collection. The second study had the students listen to a recording that was later meant for broadcast on the campus radio station. It recited the story of a student with a leg injury who was unable to attend class regularly. Students were asked how many hours over the next few weeks they could meet with the student to give him assistance. Those that reported being humble generally offered more time than the less humble.

The last study used key words and association in quick succession to have the students analyze themselves. Stimulus words in the humble section included modest, tolerant, down to earth, respectful, and open-minded. Stimulus words in the arrogance portion included immodest, egotistical and conceited.

Rowatt concluded that:

“Our discovery here is that the understudied trait of humility predicts helpfulness … Important next steps will be to figure out whether humility can be cultivated and if humility is beneficial in other contexts, such as scientific and medical advancements or leadership development.”

Written by: Rupert Shepherd B.Sc