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Are Helpful People More Humble?

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Unless you’re psychic, predicting a stranger’s character traits can be difficult. But if you see someone engage in a random act of kindness, new research indicates you can at least assume that person is humble.

Scientists have found humility is a major factor in whether or not people go out of their way to help others. And while previous studies showed another personality trait, agreeableness, may also contribute to Good Samaritan behavior, humility actually appears to have a stronger influence — regardless of time and social pressures.

Other cognitive and emotional qualities such as empathy and a sense of personal responsibility come into play as well, but Jordan LaBouff, a psychologist at the University of Maine who authored the new study, said his group’s findings “demonstrate that there are personal qualities that alter whether people are more or less likely to help somebody in need.”

That said, humility can be hard to define. It’s often tied to being less selfish and self-centered, but LaBouff feels it’s more about how we view ourselves, adding, “The definition we used includes things such as a low self-focus, so you spend less time and energy on yourself, an intellectual openness and a relatively accurate view of your strengths and weaknesses.”

The big question is whether people can be taught to be more humble, or if a desire to help others is actually innate. But regardless, LaBouff says, “There seems to be growing evidence indicating that humility is a good thing. We just have to figure out how it’s generated — why do people feel humble — and see if it can be manipulated to help people experience more humility.”

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