If you need a helping hand, reach out to the most humble person you know.
In a study published online in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found that humble folks are more likely to offer help to someone in need, compared to those who are, well, arrogant.
The study findings are “surprising,” because most studies on helping behavior have focused on situations, rather than personality variables, says psychologist and lead author Jordan LaBouff, Ph.D. of the University of Maine, who worked on the study while at Baylor University in Texas. Although being “agreeable,” has some effect on helpfulness, the study results did find that humility trumped it. The critical finding of that study was that humility predicted helping even when social pressure to help was minimal, LaBouff says.
The researchers designed three separate studies, involving more than 300 students from Baylor University.
In the first study, participants were asked to complete an online survey, which included rating measures of helpfulness, as well as what social scientists call the Big Five personality dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, among other tests. After controlling for “agreeableness,” participants who reported themselves as humble also reported they were helpful.
To avoid self-reporting bias, the researchers then measured humility using tests that that would help avoid creating the appearance of humility. Participants listened to a recording describing a fellow student who was injured and needed help. They were then asked how many hours over the next three weeks they would be willing to meet with the student to provide aid. Results showed the humble would devote nearly twice as many hours, compared to the arrogant.
In the third study, participants were asked to associate as quickly as possible traits that applied to themselves. Again, humility was associated with amount of time offered to help a student in need.
Although social scientists can’t agree on a definition of humility, making it one of the most under-studied personality traits, they do agree that “... helping one another is the cornerstone of human relationships,” LaBouff says.
Now, with data showing that humility predicts helpfulness, ongoing research could focus on whether humility can actually be “cultivated,” and whether humble folks have a leg up on the arrogant in other contexts, such as scientific and medical advances or in leadership roles, says co-author Wade C. Rowatt, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University.
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