The Study of Wisdom

What’s it about?

The pursuit of wisdom is deeply rooted in human history. Psychology has also investigated the topic of wisdom and describes her as the ideal endpoint of human development. In recent years, more research on wisdom has been conducted and the number of wisdom-related studies has greatly increased. In our society there seems to be a general interest in positive psychology as well as a growing uncertainty about how to lead our lives in these post-modern and unstructured times.

What was investigated?

Can wisdom be measured? First, an empirical paradigm for the study of general wisdom was established. Later, a paradigm measuring personal wisdom on the basis of five criteria (e.g. self-knowledge, tolerance for ambiguity) was added. Moreover, we wanted to investigate how general and personal wisdom develop and change across the lifespan.

What were the main findings?

Our investigation showed the usefulness of distinguishing general and personal wisdom. While general wisdom is about the expertise in the fundamental pragmatics of life in general, personal wisdom much more describes the insight of an individual into his or her own life. Our studies have shown that a positive plasticity is possible with both types of wisdom and that wisdom-related performance can be stimulated through different methods. To facilitate personal wisdom, for example, it seems to be useful to have someone unknown and trained – in contrast to a familiar person – to encourage a life-reflection process. It will be a future challenge how to implement such conditions in everyday life.

More information:
Psychological Wisdom Research: Commonalities and Differences in a Growing Field (2011)
Phyllis Korkki (12 March 2014). “The Science of Older and Wiser”. The New York Times.
Gregory Beyer (5 May 2014). “Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is, And It Doesn’t Always Come With Age”. The Huffington Post.

Research on Wisdom at the Columbia Aging Center