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Wisdom - Implicit (subjective) Theories About Wisdom

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Most empirical research on wisdom in the field of psychology has focused on further elaboration of the definition of wisdom. Moving beyond the dictionary definitions, research explored the nature of everyday beliefs, folk conceptions, or implicit (subjective) theories of wisdom (see Sternberg, 1990).

These studies, in principle, build on research initiated by Vivian Clayton in 1976. Clayton found that three characters are typical of wise people: (1) affective characteristics such as empathy and compassion, (2) reflective processes such as intuition and introspection, and (3) cognitive capacities such as experience and intelligence.

A study conducted in 1986 by Robert J. Sternberg focused on the relationship of wisdom with characteristics such as creativity and intelligence. Wisdom was found to be defined by six aspects: reasoning ability, sagacity, learning from ideas and the environment, judgment, expeditious use of information, and perspicacity. A large overlap was found between intelligence and wisdom, though sagacity was found to be specific to wisdom. In later theoretical work, Sternberg defined wisdom as balancing intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal interests to achieve a common good (Sternberg, 1998).

Another major study on subjective theories of wisdom was conducted by Stephen Holliday and Michael Chandler, also in 1986. A factor analysis of the attributes judged to be ‘‘most prototypical’’ of a wise person revealed two factors: (1) ‘‘exceptional understanding of ordinary experience,’’ and (2) ‘‘judgment and communication skills.’’

In 1999, Fritz Oser provided initial evidence on the implicit theories about wise acts, which seem to be characterized by seven features. Wise acts tend to be: (1) paradoxical and unexpected; (2) highly moral and (3) selfless; and they involve (4) overcoming internal and external dictates; (5) a striving towards equilibrium; (6) an implied risk; and (7) a striving towards improving the human condition.

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