The Psychological Structure of Humility
Psychological inquiry into humility has advanced considerably over the past decade, yet this literature suffers from 2 notable limitations. First, there is no clear consensus among researchers about what humility is, and conceptualizations vary considerably across studies. Second, researchers have uniformly operationalized humility as a positive, socially desirable construct, while dismissing evidence from lay opinion and theological and philosophical traditions suggesting that humility may also have a darker side. To redress these issues, we conducted the first comprehensive, bottom-up analysis of the psychological structure of humility. Here we report 5 studies (total N = 1,479) that involve: (a) cluster analysis and categorization of humility-related words, generated by both lay persons and academic experts; (b) exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses of momentary and dispositional humility experiences; and (c) experimental induction of a momentary humility experience. Across these studies, we found converging evidence that humility can take 2 distinct forms, which we labeled “appreciative” and “self-abasing” humility. Appreciative humility tends to be elicited by personal success, involve action tendencies oriented toward celebrating others, and is positively associated with dispositions such as authentic pride, guilt, and prestige-based status. In contrast, self-abasing humility tends to be elicited by personal 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. Together, these findings provide a systematic and empirically grounded understanding of humility.