Wisdom and Mental Health Across the Lifespan (Webster, Westerhof & Bohlmeijer, 2012)

Abstract

Objectives. The relationships between wisdom and age and between wisdom and mental health are complex with empirical results often inconsistent. We used a lifespan sample and broad, psychometrically sound measures of wisdom and mental health to test for possible age trends in wisdom and its subcomponents and the relationship between wisdom and hedonic and eudaimonic aspects of well-being.

Method. Participants included 512 Dutch adults ranging in age from 17 to 92 (M age = 46.46, SD = 21.37), including 186 men and 326 women. Participants completed measures of wisdom, physical health, mental health, and personality.

Results. Significant quadratic trends indicated that middle-aged adults scored higher on wisdom than younger and older adults. Investigation of wisdom subcomponents illustrated that a complex pattern of increases and decreases in different aspects of wisdom helped account for these age findings. Bivariate correlations showed the expected positive association between wisdom and mental health. Hierarchic regression analyses indicated that the positive association between wisdom and mental health remained significant after accounting for demographic variables (i.e., sex, age, education) and personality traits (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion, and openness to experience).

Discussion. Age trends in the components of wisdom (older adults higher in life experience but lower in openness relative to younger and middle-aged adults) help explain the curvilinear pattern showing an advantage in wisdom for middle-aged adults. The greater association between wisdom and eudaimonic well-being suggests that wise persons enhance mental health by pursuing meaningful activities.

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