From Our 2012 Archives

Need Help? Seek Out the Humble

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Arrogant people are less likely than humble people to offer help to someone who needs it, new research finds.

Although personal factors (such as previous time commitments and feelings of empathy or distress) and outside influences (such as how many people are watching) come into play, humility is the biggest factor in whether someone decides to lend a helping hand, according to the study published online Jan. 2 in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

"The findings are surprising because in nearly 30 years of research on helping behavior, very few studies have shown any effect of personality variables on helping," the study's lead author, Jordan LaBouff, who collaborated on the research while a doctoral candidate at Baylor University, said in a university new release.

"The only other personality trait that has shown any effect is agreeableness, but we found that humility predicted helping over and above that," said LaBouff, now a lecturer in psychology at the University of Maine.

"The research indicates that humility is a positive quality with potential benefits," the study's leader and co-author, Wade Rowatt, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences, stated in the news release. "While several factors influence whether people will volunteer to help a fellow human in need, it appears that humble people, on average, are more helpful than individuals who are egotistical or conceited."

The researchers conducted three separate studies involving college students. The first study asked students to report how humble they were. Those who considered themselves to be humble generally reported being helpful as well.

In the second study, which used a measure of humility that did not rely on the participants' own judgment, the students listened to a recording about another student who was unable to attend class due to an injury. The humble students offered more time to help this person than those who were more conceited.

Finally, students were asked to choose personality traits that applied to them as quickly as possible. Again, the students who considered themselves to be humble were more likely to offer more time to help a student in need -- even more so when the pressure put on the student to help was low.

"Our discovery here is that the understudied trait of humility predicts helpfulness," Rowatt said. "Important next steps will be to figure out whether humility can be cultivated and if humility is beneficial in other contexts, such as scientific and medical advancements or leadership development."

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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SOURCE: Baylor University, news release, Jan. 2, 2012