The Science of Wisdom by Igor Grossmann

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About this Episode

You've heard about "social-distancing" but what about emotional "self-distancing", can that help make you wiser? Are different people wiser than others and why? Is wisdom a stable trait and if so how should we measure it? In recent years there's been an explosion of research in cognitive science into answering these questions. But along with this there's also been many disagreements between researchers about what wisdom is, how best to measure it, how it develops, and how it manifests across different situations or cultures. In this episode, Igor Grossmann discusses the efforts of the Wisdom Task Force, a group of researchers who came together in the summer of 2019 to provide a systematic evaluation of dominant theoretical and methodological positions on wisdom, and to try and reach a common position or consensus on the state of the art in wisdom research in empirical psychology.

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Paper Quotes

"For laypersons and some scientists, wisdom can mean many things (Grossmann & Kung, 2018; Sternberg & Glück, 2019). Conceptualizations of wisdom often appear idiosyncratic, reflecting culture-bound attitudes toward abilities (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995; Rattan, Savani, Naidu, & Dweck, 2012), favored leadership styles (House et al., 2004), or culturallyrelevant moral characteristics (e.g., Graham, Haidt, & Nosek, 2009; Miller et al., 1990). These considerations notwithstanding, empirically oriented wisdom scientists around the world converge of a set of morally-grounded aspects of meta-cognition as a common psychological signature of wisdom.

Building on the commonalities across many construct operationalizations in empirical sciences, the Wisdom Task Force has proposed the common wisdom model, defining wisdom’s psychological characteristics as morally-grounded excellence in social-cognitive processing. The task force established that by excellence in social-cognitive processing empirical scientists typically refer to PMC—i.e., features of meta-comprehension and meta-reasoning that apply to problem-solving in domains that have consequences for other people. By moral grounding, empirical wisdom scholars typically refer to a set of inter-related aspirational goals: balance of self- and otheroriented interests, pursuit of truth (vs. dishonesty), and orientation toward shared humanity. Future generations of psychological scientists can build on these insights, establishing a common language for a psychometrically sound construct operationalization across multiple levels of analysis (e.g., state vs. trait), and with an eye toward possible ways to nurture wisdom in challenging times."