The Effects of Priming Humility on Defensive Reactions Following Criticism of One’s Cherished Values

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren

Document Type


Event Date



This study examined the role of humility in moderating defensive reactions following criticisms of one’s cherished values. Previous research has found that humility involves an accurate view of oneself and openness to new ideas, contradictory information, and advice (Tangney, 2000; Exline, 2009), as well as an appreciation of how different people and varying perspectives can contribute to the world (Tangney, 2000). We predicted that humility would result in reduced defensiveness when people were confronted with an opposing viewpoint. 124 undergraduates participants wrote essays on a cherished social or cultural issue and were told it would be swapped with another participant. Following the essay, participants were implicitly primed with humble, arrogant or neutral words, using a subliminal priming induction (flashing construct-relevant words on a computer for 20ms). They were then given a fixed essay that was critical of religion and told it was from a fellow participant. Participants were then given fixed negative feedback on their own essay and given the opportunity to rate the fixed essay. Lastly, participants were given the opportunity to administer hot sauce to the fake participant after being told that the critical partner did not like spicy food. We predicted that participants in the humility condition would rate the fixed-essay author more favorably and show less behavioral aggression by administering less hot sauce. Although priming condition did not affect essay ratings, there was a significant effect on the amount of hot sauce administered. Participants primed with humility administered significantly less hot sauce than those in the neutral condition. The arrogant priming did not vary significantly from either condition. It appears that humility may help reduce defensiveness.


This research was supported by a grant from The John Templeton Foundation.

This document is currently not available here.