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Wisdom - Is There Wisdom-related Potential?

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Given the fact that wisdom-related performance had been successfully operationalized, a question has arisen as to whether it is possible to increase wisdom-related knowledge and judgment. At least three studies have been conducted to test this idea (see Baltes and Staudinger, 2000). In a 1993 study conducted within the Neopiagetian tradition, Kitchener and colleagues demonstrated that the level of reflective judgment in adolescence could be raised by presenting examples of higher-level responses.

Within the wisdom paradigm just described, two different approaches have been successful in activating wisdom-related potential (see Staudinger, 1999). The first study found that dyads who know each other quite well—having had a chance to discuss the wisdom problem before they individually responded (real dialogue)—demonstrated performance levels (significantly standard deviation) higher than observed in the standard setting. In line with notions of symbolic interactionism, increases in wisdom-related performance were also identified when participants thought about what other people might say while thinking about the problem (virtual dialogue). A second study focused on one of the five wisdom-related criteria—value relativism—and adopted a successful memory training technique (known as the method of loci). With this method participants trained to think about life problems as if they were taking place in different regions of the world. This process creates links between geographic locations and life problems in order to make it easier to remember the life problem. Participants trained in this knowledge-activating strategy significantly outperformed the control group (by more than half a standard deviation).

The concept of wisdom represents a fruitful topic for psychological research in that it emphasizes the search for continued optimization and the further evolution of the human condition, and because it allows for the study of collaboration among cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes. It is expected that future research on wisdom will be expanded in at least three ways: (1) toward the further identification of social and personality factors, as well as life processes, relevant for the ontogeny of wisdom, (2) exploration of wisdom as a meta-heuristic, and (3) it will examine how wisdom research can contribute to building a psychological art of life.



BALTES, P. B.; SMITH, J.; and STAUDINGER, U. M. ‘‘Wisdom and Successful Aging.’’ Nebraska Symposium on Motivation 39 (1992): 123–167.

BALTES, P. B., and STAUDINGER, U. M. ‘‘Wisdom: The Orchestration of Mind and Virtue towards Human Excellence.’’ American Psychologist 55 (2000): 122–136.

KRAMER, D. A. ‘‘Wisdom As a Classical Source of Human Strength: Conceptualization and Empirical Inquiry.’’ Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 19 (2000): 83–101.

STAUDINGER, U. M. ‘‘Older and Wiser? Integrating Results from a Psychological Approach to the Study of Wisdom.’’ International Journal of Behavioral Development 23 (1999): 641–664.

STERNBERG, R. J., ed. Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

STERNBERG, R. J. ‘‘A Balance Theory of Wisdom.’’ Review of General Psychology 2 (1998): 347–365.

WELSCH, W. ‘‘Wisdom, Philosophical Aspects.’’ In International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Edited by N. Smelser and P. B. Baltes. London: Elsevier, in press.

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