Are you wise? Well, it depends…

This is both re-assuring and interesting: according to new research we demonstrate different levels of wisdom from one situation to the next, and factors such as whether we are alone or with friends can affect it. I am not that surprised, I’ve seen smart people doing stupid stuff over and over again. (Even worse: check one of my most read posts on this blog for some examples…) The study is based on a 9-day diary approach with 152 final participants.

From the short press release:

The study defines wise reasoning as a combination of such abilities as intellectual humility, consideration of others’ perspective and looking for compromise. The work appears in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

“This research does not dismiss that there is a personality component to wisdom, but that’s not the whole picture,” said Professor Igor Grossmann, from the Department of Psychology at Waterloo and lead author of the paper. “Situations in daily life affect our personality and ability to reason wisely.”

The observation that wise reasoning varies dramatically across situations in daily life suggests that while it fluctuates, wisdom may not be as rare as we think. Further, for different individuals, only certain situations may promote this quality.

“There are many examples where people known for their critical acumen or expertise in ethics seem to fall prey to lack of such acumen or morals. The present findings suggest that those examples are not an anomaly,” said Grossmann. “We cannot always be at the top of our game in terms of wisdom-related tendencies, and it can be dangerous to generalize based on whether people show wisdom in their personal life or when teaching others in the classroom .”

By examining conditions and situations under which people may or may not show wisdom in their lives, researchers and practitioners may learn more about situations promoting wisdom in daily life and recreating those situations.

For the next stage of this work, Grossmann and his team are preparing a tool to assess wisdom according to the situation. They have plans to conduct the first-ever longitudinal study aiming at teaching people to reason wisely in their own lives.

Abstract of the study:

How stable vs. dynamic is wisdom in daily life? We conducted a daily diary study of wise reasoning (WR) by recording people’s reflections on daily challenges in terms of three facets: intellectual humility, self-transcendence, and consideration of others’ perspectives/compromise. We observed substantial and systematic intraindividual variability in WR, with wiser reasoning in the social versus nonsocial contexts. State-level WR variability was potent in predicting a bigger-picture construal of the event, more positive (vs. negative) emotions, greater emotional complexity, lower emotional reactivity, less thought suppression, and more reappraisal and forgiveness. In contrast, on the trait level, we observed only a few associations to emotional complexity and reappraisal. We discuss implications for conceptualization and measurement of wisdom-related thought.

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