Personal Wisdom: Validation and Age-Related Differences of a Performance Measure (Mickler & Staudinger, 2008)

Ursula Staudinger is well known in the wisdom research community principally for her pioneering work on the development of The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm. In this paper, she suggests that we should consider two subtypes of wisdom: General Wisdom (GW), which is concerned with insights into life in general and Personal Wisdom, which is a person’s insight into their own life. Whilst The Berlin Wisdom paradigm is suitable for measuring General Wisdom, a new scale is proposed for measuring Personal Wisdom. The 5 criteria of Personal Wisdom are as follows:

Basic

(1) self-knowledge

(2) heuristics of growth and self-regulation

Meta

(3) Interrelating the self

(4) Self-relativism

(5) Tolerance of ambiguity

Their study suggests that whilst age has no effect on the basic criteria, older people actually did worse as judged by the metacriteria than young people. The authors propose that this is due to the ‘self-relativism’ criterion, which requires facing up to the negative aspects of our own personality. As people age, it is often helpful to adopt a self-enhancement bias in order to view your life positively. Whilst this might be helpful, it requires turning away from the negative aspects of one’s life, and so impacts negatively on self-relativism and hence Personal Wisdom. The paper also suggests that a medium amount of reported life events showed the highest positive relation with Personal Wisdom. Too few and we fail to have the chance to develop Personal Wisdom, but too many dramatic events and we can become overwhelmed.

Abstract

The 2 goals of this study were to develop and validate a performance measure of personal wisdom (PW) and to examine age differences. On the basis of the Berlin wisdom paradigm and growth theories of personality, 5 criteria of PW were developed. A sample of 83 younger adults (ages 20 – 40) and 78 older adults (ages 60 – 80) thought aloud about a PW task. Transcribed answers were rated. Validity was established with regard to indicators of personality growth, subjective wellbeing, intelligence, critical life events, and general wisdom. As expected, no age differences were obtained on the basic criteria, and negative age differences were found on the metacriteria indexing PW. Fluid intelligence and openness to new experience partially mediated these differences. It is argued that on average and for current cohorts age-related changes in psychological functioning may act as hindrances on the road to PW.

Click here to read the original paper


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