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The Psychological Structure of Humility

This line of research examines the structure of humility—meaning, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that go along with this experience, as well as individual differences in the tendency to feel humble. Psychological inquiry into humility has advanced considerably over the past decade, yet this literature suffers from two major limitations: (a) There is no clear consensus about what humility is; and (b) prior researchers have uniformly operationalized humility as a positive, socially desirable construct, while dismissing evidence from lay opinion and theological and philosophical traditions that humility may also have a darker side. We have conducted a series of studies demonstrating that humility in fact consists of two distinct dimensions: appreciative humility, which tends to be elicited by personal success, involves action tendencies oriented toward celebrating others, and is positively associated with dispositions such as authentic pride, guilt, and prestige-based status; and self-abasing humility, which tends to be elicited by failure, involves negative self-evaluations and action tendencies oriented toward hiding from others’ evaluations, and is associated with dispositions such as shame, low self-esteem, and submissiveness. Our paper reporting these findings, at JPSP, can be seen here. In ongoing/future work, we are testing whether the two forms of humility serve distinct social functions, and how each unfolds over time.