- Wisdom is an ideal, rather than a state of being. Many adults are on the way toward wisdom, but very few people approach a high level of wisdom-related performance as measured.
- The period of late adolescence and early adulthood is the primary age window for wisdom-related knowledge to emerge. Age may be necessary but it is not sufficient to guarantee wisdom.
- Neither academic intelligence nor basic personality traits play a major role in the development of wisdom-related performance during adulthood.
- The expression of wisdom-related performance can be enhanced by relatively simple social interventions. For example, having respondents discuss the problem with a trusted adviser, or asking respondents to engage in inner dialogue about the problem with a person of their choice, or even instructing respondents to “make a wise choice” increased performance levels by almost one standard deviation.
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Applying the Psychology of Wisdom to Make Better Decisions!
How wisdom contributes to decision-making has been attracting a lot of research interest lately. Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, Robert Sternberg defines wisdom as “the search for a moderate course between extremes, a dynamic between knowledge and doubt, a sufficient detachment from the problem at hand, and a well-balanced coordination of emotion, motivation, and thought".
For the past two decades the Berlin Wisdom paradigm has served to operationalize wisdom as a scientifically grounded psychological construct. Wisdom is defined as “good judgement and advice in difficult and uncertain matters of life”. The five criteria used for assessing individual wisdom-related performance are intended to reflect a balance between intellect and character:
1. Rich factual knowledge about human nature and the life course,
2. Rich procedural knowledge about ways of dealing with life problems,
3. Lifespan contextualism – an awareness and understanding of the many contexts of life, how they relate to each other, and how they change over the lifespan,
4. Value relativism and tolerance – an acknowledgement of individual, social, and cultural differences in values and life priorities, and
5. Knowledge about handling uncertainty, including the limits of one’s own knowledge.
The elegant experimental design of the Berlin Wisdom paradigm has provided robust findings:
The Center for Practical Wisdom at The University of Chicago has been promoting the scientific understanding of wisdom and its role in the decisions and choices that affect everyday life through the Defining Wisdom Project (2007-2011) and the Wisdom Research Project (2012-2015). Center Director, Professor Howard Nusbaum defines wisdom as “prudential judgement in the service of human flourishing”. The most important aspects of research at the Center have been to find the experiences and practices that enable people to increase their wisdom.
The Stein Institute for Research on Aging at The University of California San Diego has also been researching wisdom. Curiously, they discovered the ‘Ageing Paradox’, the finding that people in general report feeling happier as they age! They recently identified six components of wisdom from a comprehensive literature review:
1. Social Advising - This involves having a good general knowledge of life and how to apply it in solving social problems, often hard-won through personal life experience. This element also involves an understanding of the developmental course of human life and how to apply relative judgement to different stages of the life cycle.
2. Decisiveness - It is important to think about the pros and cons of everything before deciding. That needs to happen initially, but at some point, you do have to decide. You must be decisive and act upon it. This element is about recognizing ambiguity but making quick and effective decisions. Not sitting on the fence too long.
3. Emotion Regulation - Regulating feelings and exercising self-control is essential to good judgement. Not “flying off the handle” or withdrawing. Control over your emotions is not absence of emotions but having control over the magnitude and the variation in them. At the same time, emotion regulation is primarily associated with more positive emotions. Not an extreme, ecstatic kind of positivity, but more contentedness.
4. Insight - This is knowing yourself. It includes self-reflection and the ability to analyze and understand yourself and your actions. Striving to do that through self-reflecting and understanding one’s strengths as well as one’s weaknesses.
5. Pro-Social Behaviours - These are things we do for others rather than for ourselves. This element represents an understanding of how others are feeling, a capacity to imagine what it must be like for them, and a preference for altruism, and a sense of fairness.
6. Tolerance for Divergent Values - Acceptance of diversity of views means you may have strong feelings about something, but also understand why somebody else might have different feelings about it. It doesn’t mean that you give up on your values, but you can also understand why someone else may feel or think differently. It also means not being 100% certain that what you think is right, which means you’ll be more prepared to change your mind if new information presents itself.
The Wisdom and Culture Lab at The University of Ontario, Canada has been pivotal in establishing a practical framework for wise thinking that lends itself to better decision making. According to Professor Igor Grossmann and colleagues, “wise thinking is a skill. It is not simply an attribute of a person but rather a property of person-in-context. The potential for wise thinking emerges in the interaction of the person and their environment”.
Wise reasoning seems to mediate the effects of age on wellbeing. In other words, just thinking wisely improves life! Wisdom needs to be considered in the context of everyday life according to Professor Grossmann and colleagues. The central characteristics of wisdom have a dynamic component. Just because you are wise in one context does not mean you will be wise in another. Understanding the situational contingencies where wise thinking may lead to wise actions is vital to promoting wisdom. For example, one way to buffer thinking against bias in cases where self-interests are unavoidable is ‘ego-decentering’. In other words, viewing events from a “fly on the wall” vantage point.
In situation-specific experimental conditions, Professor Grossmann and colleagues have been able to demonstrate that wise reasoning varies across cultures (e.g., younger and middle-aged Japanese showed greater ability to reason wisely than their U.S. American counterparts), women are somewhat better at wise reasoning than men, and wise reasoning dips in middle-age (35-50) and then rises!
Not all decisions need wisdom, but wise decisions need the psychology of wisdom to be effective.