Psychologists have identified an important trait that could be shared by truly humble people – something called ‘hypo-egoic nonentitlement’.
That simply means that you don’t believe your positive qualities and life achievements entitle you to any kind of special treatment from others.
That’s slightly different to having a tendency to downplay your strengths and your achievements, which you might ordinarily associate with being humble, and it gives us a new insight into the essence of humility.
The researchers – psychologists Chloe Banker and Mark Leary from Duke University in North Carolina – note that humility is of “particular interest” because of its links to “an array of desirable psychological and interpersonal outcomes”. Just as excessive ego can lead to a variety of personal and social problems (take a look at the world around us).
The loose definition and understanding of humility means it’s hard to reach a scientific consensus about its underpinnings – what exactly is humility anyway? How do you go about measuring it? And is there something that characterises all humble people?
In the case of this study, the researchers asked a total of 419 people to describe personal characteristics and achievements they were proud of, and then to compare them with what other people had accomplished in their lives.
The participants were also asked to rate how they thought other people should treat them, based on what they’d done in their lives and the kinds of people they were.
Finally, the volunteers were measured for certain social traits, including humility, self-esteem, narcissism, self-interest and psychological entitlement.
What the research found was that people who scored highly for humility were no different to anyone else in terms of how important they thought their accomplishments and their attractive personality traits were.
The difference was in how they thought about the special treatment they were entitled to – as in, they didn’t think they were entitled to any, no matter what they’d done.
“Everyone who has studied humility agrees that humble people probably see themselves more accurately than the average person, so they know that they’re good at whatever it is they’re good at,” Leary told Eric Dolan at PsyPost.