The Top Athletes Display Humility, Says Baylor Researcher

Oct. 24, 2006
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In a world where self-promotion and assertiveness seem to be the norm and, in many cases, rewarded, humility can be considered a weakness. But a new study conducted by a Baylor University researcher indicates humility is actually a character strength with possible benefits.

Dr. Wade Rowatt, an associate professor of psychology at Baylor, surveyed nearly 200 college students about humility, asking them to associate different trait terms - ranging from open-minded to arrogant - with either themselves or others. Researchers then measured their reaction time to each trait. Rowatt said the quicker a person can associate humility trait terms (humble, modest, respectful, etc...) to themselves, the stronger the trait is to that person. In other words, a more humble person should be quicker than an arrogant person to associate humble trait terms with themselves.

"If you are humbled by something, some would think you would get depressed and question your self-worth. But our findings indicate that humility is a positive quality associated with self-esteem, well-being, and even performance benefits," Rowatt said.

Rowatt points to athletes as an example. Rowatt said nearly every top athlete in any particular sport has traits associated with humility. Those traits influence everything from the way they prepare for a game to how they respect their opponent to how they conduct themselves during the game. In fact, after an athlete retires, those who are modest and humble will have a better reputation than those who are not.

"Coaches are the ones who really recognize the importance and benefits of humility," Rowatt said. "It's important to be confident, but if you don't respect that the other team is at least as good, or better, than you, you probably won't train as hard and probably won't prepare yourself mentally to succeed."

In another study, Rowatt examined whether humility is associated with higher academic performance. The preliminary findings indicated that college students who showed more humble traits got higher grades than those who were arrogant and narcissistic.

Rowatt defines humility as a psychological quality characterized by being more modest, down-to-earth, and respectful, rather than arrogant, immodest, or egotistical. This conception of humility implies that one acknowledges mistakes, realizes limits, avoids bragging, and is respectful of others

Rowatt's research is funded through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The core mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life's biggest questions in science and philosophy. Ranging from scientific questions about the laws of nature to the nature of love, forgiveness, purpose, complexity, the mind and creativity, the Foundation's philanthropic vision is derived from Sir John's resolute commitment to rigorous scientific research and related cutting-edge scholarship. The Foundation's motto " How little we know, how eager to learn" exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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