Using the Concept of Wisdom to Enhance the Expression of Wisdom Knowledge: Not the Philosopher’s Dream but Differential Effects of Developmental Preparedness (Gluck & Baltes, 2006)

This paper is specifically concerned with the development of wisdom through ‘Wisdom-Enhancing Interventions’. The authors suggest that there are three ways of enhancing individual wisdom:

(1) Cumulative development in the course of a life through learning from experiences

(2) Learning skills and ways of thinking that can be viewed as predecessors or components of wisdom as part of education curricula

(3) Short-term interventions

Short-term interventions refer to instructions or conditions that enable participants to effectively access the wisdom-related knowledge they already have  and hence result in immediate positive effects.

In short-term interventions, it’s more a case of accessing rather than developing wisdom.

Two interventions of this type that have proved in other research to enhance wisdom performance are the ‘travel the word on a cloud’ instruction and the ‘self-dialogue’ instruction (Click here to read about these in more detail).

This study was investigating the effectiveness of a newly proposed short-term intervention:

Can giving people the instruction ‘Try to give a wise response’ enhance the expression of wisdom?

The authors findings suggest that the effectiveness of the intervention depends on the individual’s level of wisdom-related resources.

Individuals who already have developed many aspects of wisdom – intelligence, openness, rich life experience – give wiser responses when explicitly asked to ‘Try to give a wise response’.

Conversely, the same instruction was detrimental to the performance of participants with low-levels of wisdom-relevant resources.

So, if you’re already ‘wisdom-close’, it helps. If you’re far from being wise, then it does the opposite.

The authors make the general point that when designing any intervention, the preparedness of the individual subject is critical. It’s clear from this research that ‘wisdom-enhancing’ interventions share this characteristic.


In this study, the authors explored whether wisdom-related performance could be enhanced by an instruction referring to the abstract concept of wisdom (“try to give a wise response”). The authors used three levels of activation of the concept of wisdom as well as intelligence-activation and control conditions in a heterogeneous sample of three age groups (N 318). Results showed no general effect of the wisdom-concept instructions but did show an aptitude (resource) treatment interaction: Participants high in preparedness resources associated with wisdom exhibited some gains, whereas the performance of resource-low participants actually declined after the instruction. Implications and consequences with respect to ways of enhancing the expression of wisdom-related knowledge are discussed.

Click here to read the original paper

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