After completing my Bachelors degree in Psychology, English Literature and Political Science (1975) and Masters in Psychology (1977) in Hyderabad India, I did my PhD at Edinburgh University (between 1977 and 1983). Returning to India I taught Psychology at the University College for Women in Hyderabad for three years. I have been teaching at British universities from 1986. I am interested in the origins and development of social cognition, mainly in young infants. For twenty years now I have been exploring the role of emotional engagement in social understanding, focusing on the everyday, ordinary engagements (such as teasing and joking and showing-off or feeling shy) which often tend to get ignored in mainstream theories. I am Director of the Centre for Situated Action and Communication which explores ideas of context and situation on different kinds of psychological phenomena. My interest in engagement as the route to understanding has led me to questions about the nature and influence of cultural engagements on social understanding.
Intellectual humility is important – in science and in everyday life. Humility in the face of ideas, however, requires, first and foremost, an emotional openness to people. To understand intellectual humility, therefore, we need to make two crucial shifts: first, explore its emotional roots and indeed see it as an emotional phenomenon itself; and second, step back into infancy and ask how emotional openness to others is first manifest, how it develops.
We also need to explore how, sometimes, infants, like adults, close themselves from relating to others. This exploration requires that we deal with some inter-related (and often rather fuzzy) ideas: genuineness (and overlapping notions of sincerity, authenticity and pretention), privacy (both at the individual and the cultural/institutional level) and awareness of other minds. These ideas - and this exploration - necessarily cut across disciplinary boundaries. We have to deal with findings from infant development, from neuroscience, from social psychology, from cultural studies, from literature, and from political science. This will allow us to put the phenomenon first; emotional openness and its relation to humility occurs in different domains of our lives and cannot be limited by conceptual boundaries.
In this project I propose a number of related outputs: first, a scholarly paper directly arguing that emotional openness leads to intellectual humility, both developmentally and in our adult experience; second, a book on emotional openness and engagement, exploring its links with humility as well as taking a broader look at issues of genuineness, privacy and understanding other minds; third to conduct one exploratory diary study of adult experiences of openness and humility (or its absence) in everyday life. Basing intellectual understanding on simple, ordinary everyday phenomena is crucial. It will help us not only to understand better what we’re talking about, but, almost paradoxically, it should help us to be more open to the oddities of real experiences.