Defining and Assessing Wisdom: A Review of the Literature (Bangen, Meeks & Jeste, 2013)

In this paper, Meeks and Jeste build on their earlier study into the Neurobiology of Wisdom (click here to read). Their original study identified six common sub-components of many established definitions of wisdom (1- 6 below). This more in depth investigation identifies three further sub-components (7- 9 below). 24 papers definitions were included in this study. To make it onto the list, a sub-component needed to be mentioned in at least 3 definitions. The sub-components are listed below, in order from most mentioned to least mentioned:

(1) social decision making/pragmatic knowledge of life – (23 definitions)

(2) prosocial attitudes/behaviors – (21 definitions)

(3) reflection/self-understanding – (19 definitions)

(4) acknowledgment of and dealing effectively with uncertainty/ambiguity – (16 definitions)

(5) emotional homeostasis – (13 definitions)

(6) value relativism/tolerance – (7 definitions)

(7) Openness to new experiences – (5 definitions)

(8) Spirituality – (5 definitions)

(9) Sense of humour – (3 definitions)

The paper also discusses the reliability and validity of 8 different instruments used for the assessment of wisdom. The following instruments showed significant strengths:

(1) The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm (Baltes & Smith)

(2) The Three-dimensional Wisdom Scale (Ardelt)

(3) The Wisdom development Scale (Brown and Greene)

(4) The Self-assessed Wisdom Scale (Webster)

(5) The Social Reasoning Measure (Grossman et al)

The paper suggests that, whilst current instruments use a variety of self-report, informant-based and performance-based measures, the most reliable assessment of wisdom would incorporate all three approaches.


With increasing longevity and a growing focus on successful aging, there has been a recent growth of research designed to operationalize and assess wisdom. We aimed to (1) investigate the degree of overlap among empirical definitions of wisdom, (2) identify the most commonly cited wisdom subcomponents, (3) examine the psychometric properties of existing assessment instruments, and (4) investigate whether certain assessment procedures work particularly well in tapping the essence of subcomponents of the various empirical definitions. We searched PsychINFO-indexed articles published through May 2012 and their bibliographies. Studies were included if they were published in a peer-reviewed journal and (1) proposed a definition of wisdom or (2) discussed the development or validation of an instrument designed to assess wisdom. Thirty-one articles met inclusion criteria. Despite variability among the 24 reviewed definitions, there was significant overlap. Commonly cited subcomponents of wisdom included knowledge of life, prosocial values, self-understanding, acknowledgement of uncertainty, emotional homeostasis, tolerance, openness, spirituality, and sense of humor. Published reports describing the psychometric properties of nine instruments varied in comprehensiveness but most measures were examined for selected types of reliability and validity, which were generally acceptable. Given limitations of self-report procedures, an approach integrating multiple indices (e.g., self-report and performance-based measures) may better capture wisdom. Significant progress in the empirical study of wisdom has occurred over the past four decades; however, much needs to be done. Future studies with larger, more diverse samples are needed to determine the generalizability, usefulness, and clinical applicability of these definitions and assessment instruments. Such work will have relevance for the fields of geriatrics, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, education, and public health, among others.

Click here to read the original paper

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s