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Wisdom

What is Wisdom?

Baltes and Staudinger (2000) famously defined wisdom as an “expert knowledge system concerning the fundamental pragmatics of life” (p. 122). Their understanding of wisdom included five metacriteria for wisdom. The first two are factual knowledge (e.g. about social norms, human nature) and procedural knowledge (e.g. handling conflict, making decisions). Thirdly, lifespan contextualism involves the ability to view one’s many life context (e.g. family, friends, work, education) in relation to time, history, and culture. Relativism is the next metacriterion, which involves the ability to tolerate differences in values held by individuals within a society. The final criterion involves recognizing and managing uncertainty.

Wisdom has also been described as “a function of deep insight into, and mature understanding of, the central existential issues of life, together with practical skill in responding to these issues in ways that enhance the deep wellbeing of all those who the responses affect”(Walsh, 2011, p. 110). This view is an attempt to integrate cross-cultural and contemplative perspectives, such as jnana (Hinduism), prajna (Buddhism), ma’rifah (Islam), or gnosis (Christianity). Wisdom cannot be considered without awareness of cultural context. What is viewed as “wise” varies to some degree between religious institutions, cultural traditions, subcultures, and even community and family contexts (e.g. faith versus skepticism; intuition versus reason). Walsh (2011) writes that “wisdom is embedded subjectively in the cultural ethos: the innumerable hared belies, values, ethics and ideas of a culture. These cultural elements embody the insights and understandings of countless individuals past and present” (p. 113).

A recent literature review of over thirty studies on the topic (Bangen, Meeks, and Jeste, 2013) reported a variety of wisdom subcomponents, including:  knowledge of life, prosocial values, self-understanding, acknowledgment of uncertainty, emotional homeostasis, tolerance, openness, spirituality, and sense of humor.

Can wisdom be developed?

The concept of wisdom has practical significance in psychotherapy practice. Adding a wisdom enhancement component to cognitive-behavioral therapy may aid in the treatment of late life depression and anxiety (Laidlaw, 2010). To enhance wisdom, Laidlaw (2010) suggests that individuals could be asked to reflect on their current and/or past depressive episodes and put them in the context of the broader ups and downs of life. Further, persons could be asked to consider whether any good had come from their past hard times. This approach integrates components of narrative therapy and life review.

One recent study explored the psychological underpinnings of wisdom and found that it seems to involve the process of mentally distancing oneself when considering personally meaningful issues (Kross & Grossmann, 2012). This study also found that cueing people to consider events from this vantage point predicted higher wise reasoning, attitudes, and behavior.

In contrast, Gluck and Baltes (2006) found that the instruction “try to give a wise response” did not in itself predict more wisdom expressed. Instead, it was found that individuals with a variety of wisdom-related personal resources (e.g. crystallized intelligence, openness to growth, self-regulation) expressed more wisdom. Notably, individuals low in those resources performed worse after the prompt to express wisdom, perhaps due to self-imposed performance pressures.

Assessment

  • The Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale (Webster, 2003)
  • The Adult Self-Transcendence Inventory (Levenson, Jennings, Aldwin, & Shiraishi, 2005)
  • The Loyola Generativity Scale (McAdams & de St. Aubin, 1992)
    • http://www.sesp.northwestern.edu/foley/instruments/lgs/
  • The Gerotranscendence Scale (Tornstam, 1994)

Written by Katherine King, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist, Quincy, MA

 

Webster, J. D. (2003). An exploratory analysis of a self-assessed wisdom scale. Journal of Adult Development, 10, 13–22.

Webster, J. D. (2003). An exploratory analysis of a self-assessed wisdom scale. Journal of Adult Development, 10, 13–22.

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Walsh, R. (2011). The varieties of wisdom: Contemplative, cross-cultural, and integral contributions. Research in Human Development. 8(2), 109-127.

Walsh, R. (2011). The varieties of wisdom: Contemplative, cross-cultural, and integral contributions. Research in Human Development. 8(2), 109-127.

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Tornstam, L. (1994). Gerotranscendence: A theoretical and empirical exploration. In L.E. Thomas & S.A. Eisenhandler (Eds.) Aging and the religious dimension (pp. 203-225). Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Tornstam, L. (1994). Gerotranscendence: A theoretical and empirical exploration. In L.E. Thomas & S.A. Eisenhandler (Eds.) Aging and the religious dimension (pp. 203-225). Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Comments Off on Tornstam, L. (1994). Gerotranscendence: A theoretical and empirical exploration. In L.E. Thomas & S.A. Eisenhandler (Eds.) Aging and the religious dimension (pp. 203-225). Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Sternberg, R. J. (1998). A balance theory of wisdom. Review of General Psychology, 2, 347–365.

Sternberg, R. J. (1998). A balance theory of wisdom. Review of General Psychology, 2, 347–365.

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Staudinger, U. M., & Gluck, J. (2011). Psychological wisdom research: Commonalities and differences in a growing field. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 215–241.

Staudinger, U. M., & Gluck, J. (2011). Psychological wisdom research: Commonalities and differences in a growing field. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 215–241.

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McAdams, D.P., & de St. Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity and its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, and narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 1003-1015.

McAdams, D.P., & de St. Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity and its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, and narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 1003-1015.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Comments Off on McAdams, D.P., & de St. Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity and its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, and narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 1003-1015.

Levenson, M., Jennings, P., Aldwin, C., & Shiraishi, R. (2005). Self-transcendence: Conceptualization and treatment. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 60(2), 127-143.

Levenson, M., Jennings, P., Aldwin, C., & Shiraishi, R. (2005). Self-transcendence: Conceptualization and treatment. International Journal of Aging and Human Development,  60(2), 127-143.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Comments Off on Levenson, M., Jennings, P., Aldwin, C., & Shiraishi, R. (2005). Self-transcendence: Conceptualization and treatment. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 60(2), 127-143.

Laidlaw, K. (2010). Are attitudes to ageing and wisdom enhancement legitimate targets for CBT for late life depression and anxiety? Nordic Psychology, 62(2), 27-42.

Laidlaw, K. (2010). Are attitudes to ageing and wisdom enhancement legitimate targets for CBT for late life depression and anxiety? Nordic Psychology,  62(2), 27-42.

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Kross, E., & Grossmann, I. (2012). Boosting wisdom: Distance from the self enhances wise reasoning, attitudes, and behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(1), 43-48.

Kross, E., & Grossmann, I. (2012). Boosting wisdom: Distance from the self enhances wise reasoning, attitudes, and behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(1), 43-48.

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Knight, B., & Laidlaw, K. (2009). Translational theory: A wisdom-based model for psychological Interventions to enhance well-being in later life. In V. Bengston, M. Silverstein, N.M. Putney, & D. Gans, (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Aging, Second Edition. New York: Springer.

Knight, B., & Laidlaw, K. (2009). Translational theory: A wisdom-based model for psychological Interventions to enhance well-being in later life. In V. Bengston, M. Silverstein, N.M. Putney, & D. Gans, (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Aging, Second Edition. New York: Springer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Comments Off on Knight, B., & Laidlaw, K. (2009). Translational theory: A wisdom-based model for psychological Interventions to enhance well-being in later life. In V. Bengston, M. Silverstein, N.M. Putney, & D. Gans, (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Aging, Second Edition. New York: Springer.

Bergsma, A., & Ardelt, M. (2012). Self-reported wisdom and happiness: An empirical investigation. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 481-499.

Bergsma, A., & Ardelt, M. (2012). Self-reported wisdom and happiness: An empirical investigation. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 481-499.

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Bangen, K.J., Meeks, T.W., & Jeste, D.V. (2013). Defining and assessing wisdom: a review of the literature. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 21 (12), 1254-1266.

Bangen, K.J., Meeks, T.W., & Jeste, D.V. (2013). Defining and assessing wisdom: a review of the literature. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 21 (12), 1254-1266.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Comments Off on Bangen, K.J., Meeks, T.W., & Jeste, D.V. (2013). Defining and assessing wisdom: a review of the literature. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 21 (12), 1254-1266.

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