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A new $2.6M grant to help communities cultivate intellectual humility through online learning

Admitting mistakes can be difficult — especially in a polarized society where certainty is prized — but learning to be intellectually humble may be key to fostering productive dialogue across the differences that divide us. Inspired by the need for such virtues, a team of researchers is now working to help communities learn to appreciate curiosity, open-mindedness, and constructive dialogue in a new, three-year, $3.8 million project led by Jonathan Haidt and Caroline Mehl. Created to address rifts within American society, the OpenMind Program aims to identify characteristics helping or hindering intellectual humility across targeted demographics and to develop a web-based solution for them. The John Templeton Foundation is co-funding the enterprise, awarding $2.6 million in support of the team’s educational intervention and ongoing research.

The grant will focus on expanding the OpenMind Platform from its current prototype, which began as a project within the New York University Stern School of Business to improve intellectual humility through psychologically based interventions. The current iteration features five, 15-20 minute interactive scenarios that develop reasoned, constructive, and nuanced dialogue with those of different backgrounds and worldviews. From its current state, the team will integrate additional intellectual humility literature and behavior-change best practices to create a more sophisticated version of the program, then tailor it for each of the project’s five target populations: college students, high school students, and Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities.

In addition to broadening the intervention, the team will collect datasets on character and intellectual virtues for a series of studies designed to address variables and program efficacy. The first tests whether OpenMind’s core training increases intellectual humility beyond current critical thinking and cognitive bias programs, while the second and third studies evaluate effectiveness due to repeated exposure to the platform. Finally, the last study will focus on designing automated methods to detect textual patterns of intellectual humility across each of the populations so the team can build a tool to detect behavior change through written language.

Datasets from the studies will be made available for use by other researchers and the OpenMind team aim to develop five journal articles, eight conference papers, and five different marketing campaigns tailored to the target communities. They anticipate the OpenMind Platform will be used by over 300,000 people by the end of the project through direct outreach efforts to more than 20 universities and partnerships with faith-based organizations.

“We believe this project will help us to learn more about the development of this key virtue, including more about the contexts that tend to cultivate intellectual humility,” says Richard Bollinger, the John Templeton Foundation’s Character Virtue Development Program Officer.  “Moreover, the project leaders are not only innovative in their approach, but also compelling advocates and models for the humility and open-minded dialogue they seek to study.”


Learn more about the project’s team, Jonathan Haidt and Caroline Mehl of the OpenMind Program as well as the John Templeton Foundation’s ongoing efforts to support research on the theory, understanding, and practice of intellectual humility.

Read a recent message that argues that what divides us is more labels than actual beliefs. (October 2020)