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ON WISDOM Podcast – Episode 007: Why We Tell Stories

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The On Wisdom podcast features a social-cognitive scientist in Toronto and an educator in London discussing the latest empirical science regarding the nature of wisdom. Igor Grossmann runs the Wisdom & Culture Lab at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Charles Cassidy runs the Evidence-Based Wisdom project in London, UK. The podcast thrives on a diet of freewheeling conversation on wisdom and decision-making, and includes regular guests spots with leading behavioural scientists from the field of wisdom research and beyond. Welcome to The On Wisdom Podcast.

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

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Why do we spend so much time telling stories – about ourselves, about each other, even about fictional characters?

If storytelling isn’t simply about information exchange, what role does it really play in our lives?

Why do older people feel compelled to share their hard-earned wisdom with younger people?

And do the younger people actually get anything from these exchanges?


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Developmental Psychologist Nic Weststrate joins Igor and Charles to pull apart the real reasons we share stories. We discuss exploratory and redemptive processing of life-shattering events, the complex motivations behind Holocaust survivors recounting of the Jewish refugees on the St. Louis ship at the U.S. shore, and the Stonewall riots as the mythical origin story of the Gay Liberation movement. Igor questions the role of the omnipresent Netflix storytelling machine. Nic suggests that greater tolerance around sexuality can rob people of their once revolutionary identities. Charles learns that, when our lives are broken, we may have to choose between the path to wisdom and the path to happiness. Welcome to Episode 7.

Click here to listen to ‘Episode 7: Why We Tell Stories’ in full

Click here to visit the On Wisdom Podcast site.
Click here to get to the podcast through iTunes.
Click here to subscribe to the podcast through your chosen app.

If you have any thoughts about the On Wisdom podcast, please get in touch.

You can contact me at charles@evidencebasedwisdom.com, via the about page or find me on twitter @EBasedwisdom. You can also contact me through the On Wisdom site here.

Charles

ON WISDOM Podcast – Episode 6: Wisdom, Class & Inequality (with Michael Kraus)

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The On Wisdom podcast features a social-cognitive scientist in Toronto and an educator in London discussing the latest empirical science regarding the nature of wisdom. Igor Grossmann runs the Wisdom & Culture Lab at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Charles Cassidy runs the Evidence-Based Wisdom project in London, UK. The podcast thrives on a diet of freewheeling conversation on wisdom and decision-making, and includes regular guests spots with leading behavioural scientists from the field of wisdom research and beyond. Welcome to The On Wisdom Podcast.

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

OW PODCAST- Ep6 (1)


If a typical white family in the US has 100 dollars, how many dollars does a typical black US family have? Wrong!

Why are we so bad at guessing levels of inequality in society?

How much of a role does your class play in preventing wise decision-making?

Are upper and middle-class people especially bad at taking wise decisions?

Why does more education equate to less wise reasoning in interpersonal affairs?

And just how good are we at spotting someone’s class from their shoes or even eyes?


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Assistant professor of Organisational Behaviour from Yale University’s School of Management Michael Kraus joins Igor and Charles to tease economic fact from fiction, discussing accuracy of class signalling, implications of new marshmallow-based research, woeful underestimations of inequality, and the roots of our convenient blindness. Igor breaks down surprising research suggesting that we should both pay more attention to how working class people approach interpersonal clashes and be wary of disruptive hipster beards, Michael forces us to look at the dark underbelly of the American dream, and Charles has questions about Jay-Z and the validity of cockney impersonations as a measurement tool. Welcome to Episode 6.

Click here to listen to ‘Episode 6: Wisdom, Class & Inequality’ in full

Click here to visit the On Wisdom Podcast site.
Click here to get to the podcast through iTunes.
Click here to subscribe to the podcast through your chosen app.

If you have any thoughts about the On Wisdom podcast, please get in touch.

You can contact me at charles@evidencebasedwisdom.com, via the about page or find me on twitter @EBasedwisdom. You can also contact me through the On Wisdom site here.

Charles

ON WISDOM Podcast – Episode 5: The Foolish Sage (with Eranda Jayawickreme)

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The On Wisdom podcast features a social-cognitive scientist in Toronto and an educator in London discussing the latest empirical science regarding the nature of wisdom. Igor Grossmann runs the Wisdom & Culture Lab at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Charles Cassidy runs the Evidence-Based Wisdom project in London, UK. The podcast thrives on a diet of freewheeling conversation on wisdom and decision-making, and includes regular guests spots with leading behavioural scientists from the field of wisdom research and beyond. Welcome to The On Wisdom Podcast.


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OnWisdom Podcast Graphic v2

Do ‘wise people’ even exist? Do we have ‘wise characters’ or is our behaviour more influenced by ‘wise situations’? And if so, what kinds of situations best support wise behaviour?

Assistant professor of Psychology Eranda Jayawickreme joins Igor and Charles to discuss the classic battle royale of the person-situation debate, whole trait theory and the controversial Stanford Prison experiment.

Igor outlines the actor-observer bias and suggests that westerners should be more sympathetic to grumpy waitstaff, Eranda considers the motivations behind blaming bad apples vs bad barrels and the implications for the justice system, and Charles learns that overestimating the robustness of his own virtue can lead to all manner of perilous situations.

Welcome to Episode 5.

Click here to listen to ‘Episode 5: The Foolish Sage’ in full

Click here to visit the On Wisdom Podcast site.
Click here to get to the podcast through iTunes.
Click here to subscribe to the podcast through your chosen app.

If you have any thoughts about the On Wisdom podcast, please get in touch. You can keep up-to-date with the podcast on twitter @onwisdompodcast.

You can contact me at charles@evidencebasedwisdom.com, via the about page or find me on twitter @EBasedwisdom. You can also contact me through the On Wisdom site here.

Charles

ON WISDOM Podcast – Episode 4: Yoda vs Spock (with Stéphane Côté)

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The On Wisdom podcast features a social-cognitive scientist in Toronto and an educator in London discussing the latest empirical science regarding the nature of wisdom. Igor Grossmann runs the Wisdom & Culture Lab at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Charles Cassidy runs the Evidence-Based Wisdom project in London, UK. The podcast thrives on a diet of freewheeling conversation on wisdom and decision-making, and includes regular guests spots with leading behavioural scientists from the field of wisdom research and beyond. Welcome to The On Wisdom Podcast.


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OnWisdom Podcast Graphic v2Are emotions simply bugs in the system that prevent us from taking wise decisions? Or do they play an essential role in guiding us towards the wisest path? In short, should we be like hyper-rational cool-headed Mr Spock, or more like the emotionally sensitive Master Yoda?

How much can we even observe and guide our emotions as they unfold anyway? And are emotionally intelligent geniuses necessarily more moral than the rest of us?

Professor of Organisational Psychology Stéphane Côté joins Igor and Charles to discuss the science of emotional intelligence, machivellian deviants, emotional super-readers, deep-acting vs surface-acting emotional management, and why you can’t hide your motivations from airport customs agents.

Igor uncovers the mechanics of the jingle-jangle fallacy, Stéphane warns of the ‘danger zones’ highly empathic people enter when discussing the attractiveness of friends with their partners, and Charles finally understands why you shouldn’t sit opposite someone you don’t like in a team meeting.

Welcome to Episode 4.

Click here to listen to ‘Episode 4: Yoda vs Spock’ in full

Click here to visit the On Wisdom Podcast site.
Click here to get to the podcast through iTunes.
Click here to subscribe to the podcast through your chosen app.

If you have any thoughts about the On Wisdom podcast, please get in touch.

You can contact me at charles@evidencebasedwisdom.com, via the about page or find me on twitter @EBasedwisdom. You can also contact me through the On Wisdom site here.

Charles

ON WISDOM podcast goes live May 2018

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From rumblings started in Chicago last summer, Charles Cassidy from Evidence-Based Wisdom and Igor Grossmann from the University of Waterloo have joined forces to launch a brand new podcast on the science of wisdom: The On Wisdom Podcast.

Please find full details below:


The On Wisdom  podcast features a social scientist in Toronto and an educator in London discussing the latest empirical science regarding the nature of wisdom.
Igor Grossmann runs the Wisdom & Culture Lab at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Charles Cassidy runs the Evidence-Based Wisdom project in London, UK.
The podcast thrives on a diet of freewheeling conversation on wisdom and decision-making, and includes regular guests spots with leading behavioural scientists from the field of wisdom research and beyond.
Welcome to The On Wisdom Podcast.

OnWisdom Podcast Graphic v2


Click here to visit the On Wisdom Podcast site.
Click here to get to the podcast through iTunes.
Click here to subscribe to the podcast through your chosen app.

The first three episodes are now available here:

Episode 1: Wisdom vs Intelligence

What’s the difference between someone who’s smart and someone who’s wise? If you can you be intelligent without being wise, can you be wise without also being intelligent? If wisdom’s so essential for taking good decisions, what’s driving our exclusive obsession with intelligence? And which is really more helpful in our daily lives? Igor describes some surprising fighter-plane-based scenarios when wisdom is as useless as intelligence and Charles explains how open-ended questioning in the classroom comes with its own unique set of risks. Welcome to Episode 1 of the On Wisdom podcast.


Episode 2: The Paradox of Ageing

Does wisdom really come with age? Or is this an outdated myth from a bygone era? How might wisdom develop in a brain that’s ageing? Or perhaps by ‘age’, are we really talking about ‘experience’? If so, do all experiences lead to wisdom, or only bad ones? If old people can be foolish, can young people ever be wise? And how on earth do you even gather reliable evidence across generations? Igor brings sad news of declining brain function to anyone over 25 and cautions against seeking out traumatic experiences as a strategy for developing wisdom, whilst Charles is forced to rethink his whole position on Jude Law. Welcome to Episode 2.


Episode 3: On Death (with Laura Blackie)

Why do we avoid thinking about our own death? How does contemplating our own mortality change our day-to-day behaviour? Why do drivers, when reminded of the fact that they will die, actually drive even faster? Whilst society typically hides death from us, might certain death reflection scenarios actually lead to the development of wisdom? Laura Blackie has considered these and many related questions, and joins Igor and Charles to discuss Terror Management Theory, Death Reflection, and the potential upsides of contemplating our own demise. Igor dismisses a death clock which tells him he won’t live as long as Charles, Laura outlines the possible prosocial benefits of imagining a painful and horrible death, and Charles admits to spending too much time thinking about whether his funeral will be well attended. Welcome to Episode 3.


If you have any thoughts about the On Wisdom podcast, please get in touch.

You can contact me at charles@evidencebasedwisdom.com, via the about page or find me on twitter @EBasedwisdom. You can also contact me through the On Wisdom site here.

Charles


WISDOM PROFILES: Judith Glück

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The Wisdom Profiles Series is a collection of original interviews conducted by evidencebasedwisdom with leading researchers in the field of Wisdom Research or related fields. All participants are working to increase our understanding of wisdom and its place in the modern world.


In the eleventh interview in the series, Professor of Developmental Psychology at Alpen-Adria University Klagenfurt, Austria, Judith Glück talks to evidencebasedwisdom about her MORE life experience model of wisdom, as well the surprising relationship between wisdom, curiosity and gratitude.


WISDOM PROFILES SERIES - Judith Gluck (1)


On Wisdom, Curiosity and Gratitude


Judith Glück is a Professor of Developmental Psychology at Alpen-Adria University Klagenfurt, Austria. Her research interests include the development of wisdom, new approaches for measuring wisdom, situational aspects of wisdom, and lay theories of wisdom. Click here to read a key paper in which she assesses the validity of wisdom scales currently used by the research community. Click here to watch Glück’s talk at the University of Chicago’s Wisdom Research forum on the MORE life experience model of wisdom.

In this conversation with evidencebasedwisdom, she talked about the role of curiosity in developing wisdom as well as the unexpected relationship between wisdom and gratitude. She also outlined her MORE life experience model of wisdom, indicating the key resources necessary to meet and learn from life’s inevitable challenges.


How did you first become interested in the scientific study of wisdom?

Originally, I did not intend to become a wisdom researcher at all. At the University of Vienna, I mostly trained as a psychometrician, and my doctoral thesis was on the strategies men and women use to solve spatial problems.

In the summer of 1997, I attended a summer school at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and I was very impressed by the Institute. I got to know some people working there, and at some point one of them said that Paul Baltes only talked to people who had at least published in Psychological Review. Overambitious as I was at the time, I decided that one of my career goals would be for Paul Baltes to talk to me.


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One year later, Paul Baltes did talk to me at a conference and offered me a job! I hadn’t published anything in Psych Review, but one of his co-workers had heard me give a talk on the statistical models I was using, and he was interested in working with that approach. So obviously this was a job offer I couldn’t turn down! When I got there, the first thing Paul told me was that I was going to work on wisdom. Of all the research topics of his department, this was probably the one most distant from my previous expertise… so at first I was quite reluctant. But then I got more and more into it.

One important factor was that I met Susan Bluck and learned from her that it’s actually possible to study people’s life stories and the way they make sense of their life experiences. We started working together and that was what really got me into wisdom research: the question of how some people are able to learn from their experiences and get wiser over time.


We started working together and that was what really got me into wisdom research: the question of how some people are able to learn from their experiences and get wiser over time.


You have mentioned in your work that not everybody wants to acquire the kind of knowledge associated with wisdom. What do you think might distinguish people who are interested in such knowledge from people who actively avoid such wisdom-related knowledge?

In our interview studies, we have found that one aspect that distinguishes wise people is their basic curiosity about life, about what experiences “mean,” what they tell us about the human existence. Even when they experience something very difficult, some people have this little voice in the back of their head saying “Isn’t that interesting? I would have thought this would feel different,” and they learn something new about being human.


In our interview studies, we have found that one aspect that distinguishes wise people is their basic curiosity about life, about what experiences “mean,” what they tell us about the human existence.


They may even learn something negative or ambivalent about themselves, because they are more interested in understanding what caused a conflict, for example, than in winning the argument. I believe that this motivational factor is one of the basic things that distinguishes people who are developing wisdom. It helps them to learn continuously about life and about themselves.


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Ursula Staudinger and Ute Kunzmann have written about personality profiles oriented towards growth rather than adjustment, and Monika Ardelt has defined the cognitive dimension of wisdom as a deep desire to understand the truth (even though a wise person will probably be the first to admit that when it comes to the experience of being human, there is no such thing as objective truth). I think they are all getting at this same motivational factor. Many people do not care about the deeper meaning or the insights about life hidden in an experience – they have other goals in life. But those who do, have a higher likelihood of developing wisdom.


Many people do not care about the deeper meaning or the insights about life hidden in an experience – they have other goals in life. But those who do, have a higher likelihood of developing wisdom.


Of course, this might just be one of the typical projections of professional psychologists who think that everyone else should share their interest in human nature … but after all, wisdom is about human nature.

I understand from your research that life challenges act as essential catalysts for the development of wisdom. However, your ‘MORE Life Experience model’ suggests certain key resources are necessary to deal with and learn from these challenges and hence develop this wisdom. Can you tell us a little more about these resources?

The general assumption of the MORE Life Experience model is that certain psychological resources influence (a) what life challenges experiences people encounter, (b) how they appraise them and deal with them, and (c) how they reflect upon them later, make sense of them, and integrate them – that is, whether they grow wiser from the experience. We have recently renamed some of the resources to better reflect our understanding of them.


The general assumption of the MORE Life Experience model is that certain psychological resources influence (a) what life challenges experiences people encounter, (b) how they appraise them and deal with them, and (c) how they reflect upon them later, make sense of them, and integrate them.


The first one, originally labeled sense of mastery, should more accurately be called managing uncertainty and uncontrollability. As the new label says, it is about being able to accept the fact that we can only predict or control a small part of our lives – something that we tend to deny or ignore as we hold on to our control illusions. Wise people do not overestimate their amount of control over the things that happen to them, but this uncertainty does not scare them because they trust in their own ability to deal with whatever happens and in the support of others.


Wise people do not overestimate their amount of control over the things that happen to them, but this uncertainty does not scare them because they trust in their own ability to deal with whatever happens and in the support of others.


Openness means that wise individuals are interested in new ideas and perspectives and tolerant of people who do not share their views. They do not aim to surround themselves with like-minded others, as so many of us do in these polarizing times, but to listen respectfully to people with different views and to broaden their perspective.


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Reflectivity comes close to the truth-seeking attitude I have described above – it’s about wanting to understand complex issues in all their complexity, including wanting to understand and know oneself with all one’s ambiguities, weaknesses, and blind spots. Wise individuals are always willing to take a new perspective and gain a new insight, even if it complicates things.


Wise individuals are always willing to take a new perspective and gain a new insight, even if it complicates things.


Emotional sensitivity and regulation means the willingness to consider one’s own and others’ emotions as indicators of important aspects of a situation, not just as something that needs to be either suppressed or fully expressed. Wise people are attentive to emotions and take them seriously, but they are also well able to regulate them as a situation requires.


Wise people are attentive to emotions and take them seriously, but they are also well able to regulate them as a situation requires.


Your research suggests that wise people seem to exhibit considerable levels of gratitude, particularly for life experiences (even negative experiences) and close relationships. Can you tell us more about the role of gratitude in wisdom?

This was a completely unexpected finding from our first large-scale wisdom study. We had never thought about gratitude before, but soon after we started interviewing participants, my co-worker Susanne König noticed that wisdom nominees seemed to mention that they felt grateful far more often than other participants – even grateful for difficult experiences because they had grown from them.

She followed up on this by analyzing both how often participants mentioned gratitude spontaneously and by asking them to fill out gratitude questionnaires. It turned out that wisdom nominees indeed talked about gratitude more often, and they also were more grateful and grateful for different things than non-nominees.


It turned out that wisdom nominees indeed talked about gratitude more often, and they also were more grateful and grateful for different things than non-nominees.


So wisdom is empirically related to gratitude, which brings up the question whether gratitude is really a component of wisdom. I don’t really think so – I think of it more as a kind of by-product of wisdom. Wise people are more aware of the limits of their own control over things, which means that they appreciate the contributions of others – and those of good luck! – to the good things that happen to them.

They have close relationships to others and appreciate these relationships – in fact, we found that wisdom nominees reported being grateful for their partners far more often than other participants did.


In fact, we found that wisdom nominees reported being grateful for their partners far more often than other participants did.


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They have also experienced and reflected upon their share of bad things, and as they know how easily something negative can happen, they appreciate the good times in their life, even the small ones.

Thus, gratitude is part of the general attitude that wise individuals have about life: open to change, appreciative of the good things and fully aware of life’s ever-changing nature.

In your talk ‘Measuring Wisdom: Old & New Thoughts’, you highlighted a number of challenges associated with measuring wisdom. What do you think is the most important aspect of wisdom measurement to address and how might this be done?

I think the most important question is how we can contextualize our measures so that they tap people’s personal experience, but at the same time maintain standardization and comparability across people. In real life, wisdom manifests itself in difficult situations – situations where a lot is at stake and people are highly emotionally involved. How can we re-create such situations in the lab?


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As Igor Grossmann’s group has shown, self-report measures that ask for people’s own perceptions of their general tendencies do not really capture how people would think and act in such challenging situations. Asking people about a theoretical problem of a fictitious person may capture their knowledge about life, but not their ability to utilize this knowledge in difficult real-life situations. It is obviously impossible (or at least severely unethical) to re-create such challenging situations in the lab, but I believe there are still ways to get closer to real-life experience than most current measures do.


Asking people about a theoretical problem of a fictitious person may capture their knowledge about life, but not their ability to utilize this knowledge in difficult real-life situations.


My lab has used interviews about past difficult situations in people’s own lives, Igor Grossmann’s group has developed a self-report questionnaire that refers to how people dealt with such a past situation. In addition to looking at people’s own lives, advice-giving approaches – where people interact with others faced with different problems – capture a situation that is very typical for wisdom. For example, Ute Kunzmann’s group has used videos of real couples talking about real conflicts and asked participants to talk about what the partners in the video could consider and do. This approach could be extended in very interesting ways.

In your work you talk about context influencing our ability to behave wisely and you indicate some ways in which our wisdom can be blocked by our environment. With this in mind, what kind of contexts or situations are most suited for nurturing wise reasoning, and do you think we can build those into our environments, communities and institutions?

The idea that wisdom is influenced by the environment is closely related to Igor Grossmann’s work on wisdom as a state rather than a stable trait. Research from his lab as well as early work by Ursula Staudinger and Paul Baltes has shown that people reason more wisely if they are made to consider other perspectives than their own, i.e. to decenter from their personal viewpoint.


Research from his lab as well as early work by Ursula Staudinger and Paul Baltes has shown that people reason more wisely if they are made to consider other perspectives than their own, i.e. to decenter from their personal viewpoint.


Similarly, research on the “wisdom of crowds” (nicely summarized in James Surowiecki’s book) shows that groups can be wiser than individuals, as they bring together diverse perspectives and ways of thinking – but only if they have a group culture that values and encourages diversity of opinions. And Bob Sternberg’s work on foolishness suggests that environmental conditions that make people believe they are omniscient and omnipotent are likely to reduce wisdom.


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Taken together, these ideas imply that we need to create environments that encourage people – especially our leaders! – to take different perspectives into account, to listen to people from various backgrounds and to seek out divergent views on important issues.


Taken together, these ideas imply that we need to create environments that encourage people – especially our leaders! – to take different perspectives into account, to listen to people from various backgrounds and to seek out divergent views on important issues.


However, it seems that the opposite is happening: with increasing ideological polarization throughout the Western world and the availability of online media that will support just about any viewpoint, it has become a lot easier for people to avoid communicating with people who disagree with them.


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I think it would be extremely important to create cultures, online as well as offline, that encourage civilized discussion of difficult issues across ideological borders. I think we need to incorporate such approaches in our schools and universities and wherever else it is possible. Wisdom research may indeed have to become much more application-oriented.

Which single practical change do you think would lead to the greatest increase in the levels of wisdom or wise reasoning in society? 

This is a great question, and I do not have a good answer. I think it is one of the main questions that wisdom research should be thinking about.

After being neglected for so long by the scientific community, why do you think that wisdom has recently started to receive more attention?

There are various reasons, but I think the most important one is that many people perceive the world to be in need of wisdom. The big ideologies have failed, and free-market capitalism clearly does not solve the problems the world is faced with, ranging from global and national inequality to climate change.


There are various reasons, but I think the most important one is that many people perceive the world to be in need of wisdom. The big ideologies have failed, and free-market capitalism clearly does not solve the problems the world is faced with, ranging from global and national inequality to climate change.


As Bob Sternberg has been arguing for a long time, the world needs good thinkers who are motivated by ethical values, caring more about the common good than about their individual success. Many people seem to notice that, both inside and outside academia.

You have mentioned the importance of observing wise behaviours directly and also spoke about potential of ethnographic studies – living with and observing wise people in their daily lives. What do you think is the most pressing priority or most fruitful line of inquiry for the wisdom research community over the next few years? What are you currently working on?

As mentioned earlier, I believe that it is important to bring wisdom research closer to real life. In our new research project, we are trying to understand the conditions that foster or hinder wisdom in professional contexts. I am also still interested in how wisdom develops – how people learn from experience and grow wiser over time.

It would also be important to go beyond our Western, first-world conceptions of what wisdom is. For example, my colleague Innocent Atwijukire recently did a study of wisdom conceptions in Uganda. Wisdom takes on quite a different meaning when people are struggling to survive or to provide an education for their children.

I believe that core aspects of wisdom, such as its orientation towards a common good, are universal, but that they can take on a very different meaning under different living conditions. Most of our research has been focusing on highly privileged populations.


I believe that core aspects of wisdom, such as its orientation towards a common good, are universal, but that they can take on a very different meaning under different living conditions. Most of our research has been focusing on highly privileged populations.


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Why not have a look at the following videos, papers and articles to learn more about Glück’s work?

Why is Wisdom Such a Rarity? Video Presentation – In this talk at Karolinska institutet, Solna, Sweden, Glück answers the question ‘Why are more of us not becoming wise in the course of our lives?’

MORE Life Experience: Video Presentation – In this talk at the University of Chicago’s Wisdom Research Forum 2015, Glück outlines here MORE Life Experience model of wisdom, as well as sharing insights about the role of gratitude in wisdom.

How to measure wisdom: content, reliability, and validity of five measures (Glück, König, Naschenweng, Redzanowski, Dorner, Straßer & Wiedermann, 2013) – In this paper, Glück’s team compares the effectiveness of four leading wisdom scales. It also discusses a number of problems in the measurement of wisdom.

Making Things Better and Learning a Lesson: Experiencing Wisdom Across the Lifespan (Bluck & Glück, 2004) – In this paper with longtime collaborator Susan Bluck, the pair illustrate how people view wisdom as a resource for turning negative events into positive events.

Gratitude Is With Me All The Time: How Gratitude Relates to Wisdom (König & Glück, 2013) – Here, König & Glück investigate the relationship between gratitude, wisdom and negative events, as well as the differences in male and female pathways to wisdom.

Judith Glück’s site – Visit Glück‘s site where you can find further papers detailing her latest research, including details of the current project Professional wisdom and situational obstacles to wisdom.


If you have any thoughts about the interview, please get in touch.

You can contact me at charles@evidencebasedwisdom.com, via the about page or find me on twitter @EBasedwisdom.

Charles


 

WISDOM PROFILES: Ursula M. Staudinger

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The Wisdom Profiles Series is a collection of original interviews conducted by evidencebasedwisdom with leading researchers in the field of Wisdom Research or related fields. All participants are working to increase our understanding of wisdom and its place in the modern world.


In the tenth interview in the series, we meet Founding Director of The Columbia Aging Centre and lifespan psychologist, Ursula M. Staudinger. Staudinger is highly regarded for her work in the development of both the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm and the Bremen Measure of Personal Wisdom. She spoke with evidencebasedwisdom about the critical relationship between wisdom, personality adjustment and growth.


WISDOM PROFILES SERIES - Ursula Staudinger


On Wisdom, Personality Adjustment and Growth


Ursula M. Staudinger is Founding Director of The Columbia Aging Centre and a lifespan psychologist. As well as having developed the much-celebrated Berlin Wisdom Paradigm with Paul Baltes in the 1980s, she has more recently developed the Bremen Measure of Personal Wisdom.

Following her presentation at the Center for Practical Wisdom Research Forum 2017 in Chicago, she spoke with evidencebasedwisdom about her most recent work on the critical relationship between wisdom, personality adjustment and growth. She also discussed her distinction between general wisdom and personal wisdom, her research regarding the wisdom of interactive minds, and why stable societies reserve wisdom for the few.

Audio excerpts from this conversation can be heard in the EBW Podcast: Wisdom Reloaded.


Do you have a definition of wisdom that you find the most helpful in your work?

Yes indeed. We have defined wisdom as deep insight and sound judgement in the fundamental issues of life, which are characterised by high uncertainty, usually.

Beyond this definition of wisdom, we have devised five quality criteria, if you wish, to determine whether a certain judgement is wiser or less wise, because as you know with wisdom, there is no right or wrong, and so you have to have criteria along which judgement is wiser.


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The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm

So to just give you three of the five, one is called ‘lifespan contextualism’, which means that wise judgement embeds this fundamental life problem in a timescale so it understands that it has a history, how it developed, and that it has short-term/long-term consequences, and it is also embedding the problem across different life domains. A difficult problem may arise, for instance, in the work domain. However, someone who has wise judgement realises that this has interconnections with your private life, your family life, with other areas in your life.


We have defined wisdom as deep insight and sound judgement in the fundamental issues of life, which are characterised by high uncertainty, usually.


Then there’s the dimension of ‘value relativism’, which is actually very crucial. It means that wise judgement has an understanding that people come to a problem with different value priorities, and that those value priorities come out of their history and their biography, and you bring your own values to a given problem situation. The wiser the judgement is, the better the person is able to balance these different values and priorities settings.

Finally the most difficult one of all is the realisation, and then the management of the uncertainties in life, which we don’t like as human beings at all, because we like to have control. We like to be able to plan, but life is the opposite. Life is full of surprises. It always goes other ways, and a wise judgement makes it possible to incorporate this uncertainty that is inherent in human life, and actually make the most out of it, by always being open to revising what you thought before, if new evidence, and maybe even contradictory evidence, comes up.


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You spoke today in your talk about the difference between personal wisdom and general wisdom. That’s probably a distinction that members of the public might be unfamiliar with. Can you tell us a little bit about that distinction?

You can think and judge and reason about fundamental problems of life in general, as you observe them in other people or you read about them or you hear about them, or you can have this kind of deep judgement about your own life and the problems that are occurring in your own life.

You have through your work identified a number of procedures or interventions that actually increase wisdom-related performance. Would you be able to tell us a little about some of those?

One intervention study that we did, and that turned out to be highly successful, was to say ‘Wisdom is a handful. It’s really hard for one person to have it in one head. How about testing the idea that if we brought two heads together, they could come up with wiser judgement?’ That’s what we did in one study, which we called ‘Interactive minds.’

The design was that we invited people to our lab, and they were to bring a person with whom they confide about difficult life issues. Then, we brought these people to our procedure, to think aloud about difficult life problems. In one group, they did that together. They discussed the problem for half an hour. Then they were taken to separate rooms to actually give their final response.

The other group was separated when they came to the lab. They just thought individually about the difficult problem, and then gave their responses.


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What we found was that the group that had a chance basically to brainstorm, if you wish, with this confidant about the difficult life problem before then going to a room and having some time to reflect about the brainstorm and then gave their answer – they had a highly improved performance over the people that thought about it alone, but also, over the people who after the brainstorm immediately had to give their answers.


So we took from this that, one setting which facilitates wisdom-related judgement is to expose yourself to a multitude of perspectives and different angles and then have some reflection time to weigh and cross-out and maybe revise your own thoughts, and then give your advice or your judgement on a difficult life situation.


So we took from this that, one setting which facilitates wisdom-related judgement is to expose yourself to a multitude of perspectives and different angles and then have some reflection time to weigh and cross-out and maybe revise your own thoughts, and then give your advice or your judgement on a difficult life situation. So that was highly efficient. Also, what we found is that, because we compared people across the adult age range, as we get older, we are better able to make use of this collective brainstorming if you wish.

It was interesting what you were saying today in your talk about the expectation that as we get older, you would expect that wisdom would come with age, but in fact sometimes there’s a narrowing of perspectives with increasing age. With self-knowledge we can become more certain about what we like or don’t like, and so we can tend towards being less open. Is there anything that can be done on a societal level to counteract this effect?

Actually, because this is such a crucial link to wisdom, I got really interested in ‘openness to new experience’ which is a personality characteristic which declines starting in midlife in our current times and societies. So we did an intervention study, which was actually a real-life programme that we were able to evaluate. The idea was to look at people who were volunteering who were all 55-plus.

Sometimes, they start volunteering and they encounter the volunteering setting, and they find that it doesn’t square with their expectations, they get frustrated, and they drop out rather quickly. It was actually a government programme that devised the curriculum. The intention was to empower volunteers to become more skilled at being a volunteer, rather than just assuming ‘because I have time and I’m older, I’m a good volunteer.’

It was a very short programme – nine days in total – and we were following the people who participated in the programme. We had a baseline assessment of ‘openness’, another assessment after the programme (which was three months later after the baseline assessment) and then another one twelve months later, so a total of fifteen months. We were able to compare it with the group on the waiting list for the programme – they were also volunteers but they had not yet participated.


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What we found was that, after roughly six to seven months, the people who had participated and then continued to volunteer, they were on a very upward trend on ‘openness to new experience’, whereas the waiting group stayed flat and stable. We take this to say ‘One way to deal with an avoidance of novelty, if you wish, as we get older, is to provide the opportunities that make it likely that also in a new environment, you’ll be successful. And if you provide the skills to people that help them grow in confidence that they can be successful, then they do have positive experiences.’


We take this to say ‘One way to deal with an avoidance of novelty, if you wish, as we get older, is to provide the opportunities that make it likely that also in a new environment, you’ll be successful. And if you provide the skills to people that help them grow in confidence that they can be successful, then they do have positive experiences.’


It’s like a positive spiral, as compared to, first of all, not even providing the opportunities for novel experiences, and secondly just expecting everyone to deal with it themselves, leading to failures and negative emotions that people try and stay away from if they can. So I think there are some easy ways, even in the labour market, to counteract this closing in on openness.

So the assumption that older people would of course be wiser leads to the assumption that they would automatically be able to handle novel situations. In fact, you’re saying that older people still need skills training if they’re going to be successful at something they take on later?

Yes, and I mean a lot of volunteers I think were very surprised by what they encountered in the volunteering setting. They found that it wasn’t such that people were waiting there with open arms: ‘Oh finally you’ve come Mr Smith, with all your time and your experience.’ That’s not the way it is. Actually you need to take yourself back a lot, if you want to make a contribution.

You spoke today about two different types of response to life’s challenges – ‘adjustment’ and ‘growth.’ You were describing how the interaction between them perhaps gives us the most likely hope of moving in the direction of wisdom. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Yes. Actually this is an insight from the personality literature, which has taught us over the last decades that, as we walk through life, we make progress on certain dimensions of our personality just by getting older – it’s quite wonderful! We become more agreeable. We become more conscientious. We become more emotionally balanced, have higher environmental mastery, become more self-acceptant and have more positive relationships with others.

At the same time, we become less open to new experience. We unfortunately lose purpose in life. We lose our incentive for further growth, and we lose out on autonomy.


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So there are two streams. On the one hand, the one that improves with age, describes how we actually get better in the way we adjust in the community in that we are living in society. We are dealing with the tasks that are given to us and we are successful. We are mastering them. We maintain our wellbeing. We are good with others. This is very important – I always call it the social glue of society – because people who are conscientious, they are reliable. People who are agreeable are easy to deal with and they are not moody. So, it’s a very important piece in a community.

On the other hand, this decline in openness, this decline in purpose in life, the decline in the growth impetus, is a decline in our maturation towards growth and moving beyond ourselves – a bit grandiose, but that’s what growth is. That is actually what would lead us further towards wisdom. Currently what we observe is that, with age, this goes down rather than up.

From the most recent data analysis of our longitudinal data set, it seems that this movement towards adjustment provides an important launch pad for the potential for moving forward on growth. We found that one type of people did exactly that. They criss-crossed between moving forward on adjustment and moving forward on growth, and both profited towards, in the end in later life, being higher on wisdom.


We found that one type of people did exactly that. They criss-crossed between moving forward on adjustment and moving forward on growth, and both profited towards, in the end in later life, being higher on wisdom.


Meanwhile, the opposite group had more of an exclusive priority on adjustment, which is actually very much rewarded, because we may turn out to get a better salary. If we are more streamlined, if we are good to the boss, we maybe get a raise, whereas the person who questions the boss may not so easily get a raise, and so forth and so forth. So actually those people who prioritise adjustment and supress growth, they have the least chance of coming out with higher wisdom in late life.

So, as much as some level of adjustment is important to be able to have the degrees of freedom to think about growth, if you prioritise adjustment over growth, it is drying growth out, if you wish.


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It’s an interesting contradiction to the kitchen-sink wisdom of ‘put a brave face on it – look at the silver lining.’ If we were to look at applying this research, how could you change society in a way that would perhaps nudge people away from always reaching for adjustment, and perhaps embracing the growth mentality more? Is there a way of turning that idea into something practical? 

That is a tough one. First I would say, the fact that we find the most frequently observed movement is towards adjustment with age, suggests this is something which is, how should I say, functional for society, because these people are very valuable members and they make a contribution. So, you would not want to ‘nudge’, as you called it, too many people into too much growth, because what you then get is a lot of emancipated people who will call into question all the good ways that have been developed in a society. They will question whether that is really how we want to move forward and if that really is the best way to do things, and so forth, and so forth. If we have too many of those people in a society, it’s quite a revolutionary society in perpetuity, in a way.

Does that mean it’s unstable?

Yes. In the wisdom literature that goes back to the early days of humankind, you will find that wisdom is reserved for a few in a given society, and that has a good reason. I think it is very helpful for society to have a few wise people that can be turned to for advice and orientation at times of crisis, but then in between there is the safe ground of ‘adjustment’ guiding society, making it prosperous.


In the wisdom literature that goes back to the early days of humankind, you will find that wisdom is reserved for a few in a given society, and that has a good reason. I think it is very helpful for society to have a few wise people that can be turned to for advice and orientation at times of crisis, but then in between there is the safe ground of ‘adjustment’ guiding society, making it prosperous.


Then at a crucial turning point, it may be good to turn to the wise ones again, as compared to a society that is full of the wise, which may not find enough balance and steadiness.

So that makes a distinction between happiness and wisdom then. A society in which everyone was happy would be sustainable, but not a society in which everyone was wise?

It would be a society that would need to be prepared for constant change, which would be very exhausting.


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The concept of wisdom has been around for millennia. The first empirical work on wisdom was your work on the development of the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm in the mid-eighties. Why is this renewed interest in wisdom happening now? Why not a hundreds years ago? Five hundred years ago? Is there something about the make-up of society today that is leading people to turn to wisdom, and perhaps engage with it more scientifically?

Yes indeed. There has been actually a very interesting philosophical analysis of that question. Around that time, it came out in the 70s and 80s, their analysis lead to the result that they thought it has to do with a greater pluralism in society.

Globalisation and the connection between different societies results in a merging of value systems, of opportunities, of how to lead your life. There are many options. With increasing living standards we have lots of options – which school to go to etc. For every single part of life we now have a lot of choice, which wasn’t the case in the past, and certainly not in the beginning of the twentieth century before the two world wars. It was much more streamlined and there was a much clearer pattern of what a good life was meant to be.

The analysis of the philosophers was that due to this pluralisation in options, more and more people looked for guidance and orientation, and wisdom through the millennia always had been turned to when there was a need for guidance and orientation. So it seems that in modern, postmodern and deconstructivist times, people more and more look for new guidance.


Globalisation and the connection between different societies results in a merging of value systems, of opportunities, of how to lead your life….. The analysis of the philosophers was that due to this pluralisation in options, more and more people looked for guidance and orientation, and wisdom through the millennia always had been turned to when there was a need for guidance and orientation. So it seems that in modern, postmodern and deconstructivist times, people more and more look for new guidance.


Of course one form of guidance that we can observe around the globe is fundamentalism. Some societies or groups in societies do away with the anxiety and the uncertainty by returning back to clear-cut, black-and-white and easy rules, but let’s hope that the majority is still trying to embrace the plurality and make it such that it is easier for individuals to find their path in the plurality.


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Why not have a look at the following videos, papers and articles to learn more about Staudinger’s work?

Conversations on Wisdom: Uncut Interview with Ursula Staudinger – In this video from the Center for Practical Wisdom at the University of Chicago, Staudinger discusses her early work on developing the much-respected Berlin Wisdom Paradigm and the controversial conflict between wisdom and happiness.

Wisdom: A Metaheuristic (Pragmatic) to Orchestrate Mind and Virtue Toward Excellence (Baltes & Staudinger, 2000) – In this paper, Staudinger and Baltes present an overview of the development of The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm.

Improving Wisdom: Video Presentation – In this talk at the University of Chicago’s Wisdom Research Forum 2015, Staudinger talks about the future direction of wisdom research and the essential role neuroscience will have to play for the field to develop in the years ahead.

Huffington Post: Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is, And It Doesn’t Always Come With Age – In this interview for The Huffington Post, Staudinger highlights 10 essential and surprising findings from the field of wisdom research.

Nobel Prize Dialogue Seoul 2017: The Positive Plasticity of Human Ageing – In this video stream, Staudinger discusses the modifiability of human ageing and the importance of cognitive training for an ageing population. Staudinger’s keynote can be viewed a 4:00:00.

EBW Podcast: Wisdom Reloaded – In this EBW podcast featuring many of the world’s leading experts in the field of wisdom research, Staudinger discusses the critical interplay between adjustment and growth on the path to wisdom development across the lifespan.

Personal Wisdom: Validation and Age-Related Differences of a Performance Measure (Mickler & Staudinger, 2008) – In this paper, Staudinger and colleagues outline the development of a performance measure for personal wisdom.

EBW article ‘The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm: An Expert Knowledge System’ – This EBW post outlines Staudinger and Baltes’s work on the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm in more detail. You can also see an EBW Graphic titled The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm here.

EBW Animation Series – Defining Wisdom – The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm is detailed in this EBW animation Defining Wisdom.

Ursula M. Staudinger’s site – Visit Staudinger’s own site where you can find up-to-date information on her ongoing research.


If you have any thoughts about the interview, please get in touch.

You can contact me at charles@evidencebasedwisdom.com, via the about page or find me on twitter @EBasedwisdom.

Charles