An Overview Of The Psychology Of Wisdom

Helena Marchand

Faculty of Psychology and Education, University of Lisbon

For approximately twenty years the concept of wisdom has received special attention in the psychology literature. Since the 1980's several implicit and explicit definitions of wisdom, several research programs examining the aspects of wisdom, and some descriptions of environments that stimulate the development of wisdom have arisen. The purpose of this article is to provide a critical overview of theories of wisdom and the research done in this field.

What is understood by wisdom?

Wisdom is both an age-old topic and, in psychology, a current one: age-old, because references are found in Egyptian writings as far back as 3000 B.C. to wisdom and to persons held to be wise, sometimes renowned for their proverbs (cf. Birren & Fisher, 1990); current, because in the field of psychology, it is only two decades since it became the object of study by an eclectic group of researchers (Baltes & Smith, 1990; Birren & Fisher, 1990; Brent & Watson, 1980; Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1990; Dittmann-Kohli, & Baltes, 1990; Kitchener & Brenner, 1990; Kramer, 1990; Meacham, 1983; 1990; Staudinger, Smith & Baltes, 1994; Sternberg, 1990; 2001a,b, among others) who were particularly interested in high levels of human performance that could be termed exceptional or expert-like; the search for positive aspects of the aging mind; and the work on conceptions of intelligence reflecting a concern with the contextual and pragmatic features of everyday functioning (cf. Baltes & Smith, 1990).

Although it has been studied in psychology since the last decades of the twentieth century, we still do not have a clear definition of wisdom. The conceptualizations of wisdom differ in the weight given to cognition and to affect. In most of them wisdom is associated with cognitive competencies (Baltes & Smith, 1990; Kitchener & Brenner, 1990; Meacham, 1990; Sternberg, 1990; 2001a,b); in a smaller number the cognitive dimension is less dominant and wisdom is seen as involving a tight integration of cognition and affect (Kramer, 1990; Pascual-Leone, 1990).

In the conceptions of wisdom that give more emphasis to cognition wisdom is seen as: (1) level of mastery of the basic pragmatics of life (Staudinger, Smith & Baltes, 1994), (2) metacognitive style that allows subjects to be aware of the limits of reliability of their own knowledge (Meacham, 1983, 1990; Sternberg, 1990), (3) awareness of the existence of ill- structured problems; comprehensive knowledge characterized by tolerance and depth; and exceptional competency for formulating appropriate and feasible judgments in the face of uncertainty (Kitchener & Brenner, 1990). Unlike well-structured problems, ill-structured problems presuppose the use of a logic that makes it possible to insert them into a concrete, contextual reality, and that facilitates an awareness of the fluid, contradictory, and paradoxical nature of this same reality (see Kramer, 1990).

In the conceptions in which cognition and affect are integrated (Clayton & Birren, 1980; Kramer, 1990; Pascual-Leone, 1990, among others) wisdom requires that cognitive development be accompanied by development of the ego (Kramer, 1990) in a comprehensive whole in which cognition, affect and personality are interconnected (Clayton & Birren, 1980) and whose underlying common ground is the disposition-of-will (Pascual-Leone, 1990). In these conceptions, besides capacities for cognition and communication, as well as significant experience of life, aspects of personality must also be taken into consideration, for example, affect and sensitivity to certain emotional indicators-aspects that make it possible to perceive others' intentions and that facilitate empathetic understanding (Birren & Fisher, 1990; Brent & Watson, 1980; Clayton & Birren, 1980; Kramer, 1990).

Wisdom's multidimensionality is further evident in the characteristics various authors attribute to subjects said to be wise, namely, overall competency (a feature that surpasses logical intelligence and technical skill); practical knowledge, or a high level of understanding of day-to-day issues and concerns; reflective or meta-analytical abilities; unusual insight regarding differences in values and priorities; and ability to comprehend and deal with uncertainty (Baltes & Smith, 1990; Baltes & Staudinger, 1993; Holliday & Chandler, 1986; Kitchener & Brenner, 1990; Meacham, 1990; Sternberg, 2001a) .

Because of the high level of competencies involved, most theorists posit that wisdom develops with age, thus constituting the ideal aim of human development (Baltes & Smith, 1990; Clayton & Birren, 1980; Erikson, 1959; Holliday & Chandler, 1986, among others).

Some theories of wisdom

Most conceptualizations of wisdom are based on popular conceptions (implicit theories, or folk conceptions). From these conceptions (cf. Sternberg, 1990) more explicit theorizing developed 1 .

Of all the conceptualizations examined, it is Baltes and co-workers (cf. Baltes & Smith, 1990; Baltes, Dittmann-Kohli & Dixon, 1984; Baltes, Smith, & Staudinger, 1992) who place the most emphasis on the cognitive component. Based on their dual model of intelligence, they define wisdom as 'a level of mastery of the basic pragmatics of life' (Staudinger, Smith & Baltes, 1994, p. 9), more dependent on practical intelligence (i.e., intelligence seen as factual and procedural knowledge, dependent upon content, culture, and experience) than on mechanical intelligence (i.e., intelligence as basic, universal, biological information processing, independent of content and susceptible to genetic differences). According to Baltes et al. (see Baltes & Smith,1990) wisdom presupposes a high level of factual knowledge about life issues; a high level of procedural knowledge regarding life's problems; superior contextual understanding; superior understanding regarding differences in values and priorities; and a high level of understanding regarding life's unpredictability, as well as the capacity to deal with uncertainty. Wisdom's subject area is vast in that it involves (1) knowledge about the variations, conditions, and facts of development, as seen from a lifecycle perspective; (2) an understanding of the nature of human behavior, of life's tasks and objectives, of social and intergenerational relations, and of life's uncertainty; and (3) self-knowledge. For Baltes (Baltes & Smith, 1990; Smith, Staudinger & Baltes, 1994; Staudinger, Smith & Baltes, 1992) specific factors exist that facilitate the development of wisdom, specifically, chronological age, the experience of a wide range of human situations and conditions, the practice of being a tutor or mentor, and certain motivational dispositions such as generativity.

For example, Baltes and his collaborators started from a everyday definition of wisdom as entailing "good judgment and advice about difficult but uncertain matters of life" to an operational definition of wisdom as "expertise in the domain of fundamental pragmatics of life " ( Arlin, 1990, p.240). Sternberg and Meacham offer conceptualizations in which the cognitive dimension of wisdom is similarly emphasized. According to Sternberg (1990), which focuses on the location of wisdom in relation to other constructs such as creativity and intelligence, subjects manifesting wisdom possess a metacognitive style that allows them to recognize 'what they know and what they don't know, as well as the limits of what can and cannot be known' (p. 157); appreciate ambiguity and face it as part of life; and strive for a deep understanding of problems and events, while at the same time recognizing the limits of their knowledge and of their capacity for understanding. In Sternberg's opinion (1990), the characteristic most specific to wisdom, i.e., the feature that distinguishes it from intelligence and from creativity, is sagacity. Besides cognitive skills, sagacity presupposes an attitude to knowledge that is manifested (1) in a high level of interest in others, (2) in a deep understanding of people and their problems, (3) in the acceptance of different opinions, and (4) in an awareness that we continue to learn from others. The wise subject is reflective, is a good listener, and doesn't hesitate to admit to an error. Recently Sternberg (2001a) presented a new conceptualization of wisdom in which it is seen as a balancing of different interests: intrapersonal (i.e., self- interest), interpersonal (i.e., the interests of others), and extrapersonal interests (i.e., contextual interests such one's country, one's city or environment). In Sternberg's words 'wisdom is defined as the application of tacit as well as explicit knowledge as mediated by values toward the achievement of a common good through a balance among (a) intrapersonal, (b) interpersonal, and (c) extrapersonal interests, over the (a) short and (b) long terms, to achieve a balance among (a) adaptation to existing environments, (b) shaping of existing environments, and (c) selection of new environments' (2001a, p. 230). For Meacham (1990), the essence of wisdom is in the awareness that knowledge is fallible and limited - i.e., in knowing that we know but that, also, we do not know - and in the assumption of a critical attitude toward beliefs, values, knowledge, information, and abilities, which simultaneously lead the person to know and to doubt. Wisdom does not show itself in what a person knows, but in the manner in which the person sees and uses the knowledge he/she possesses.

Although the researchers we have just examined present conceptualizations of wisdom focused predominantly on cognition - which facilitates research - they nevertheless admit to its multidimensionality and, hence, to the importance of the dimension of personality. According to Baltes, for example, (cf. Baltes & Smith, 1990; Baltes, Smith, & Staudinger, 1992; Smith, Staudinger & Baltes, 1994; Staudinger, Smith & Baltes, 1992), among various specific factors responsible for the development of wisdom are to be found motivational dispositions. In turn, Sternberg (1990; 2001a) holds that any theory of wisdom must involve multiple dimensions: those of knowledge, information processing, intellectual style, personality, values, motivation, and context.

Sensitive to the multidimensionality of this concept, some researchers have developed conceptualizations of wisdom in which the cognitive and affective dimensions are more explicitly integrated than in those previously described. In these conceptions (cf. Brent & Watson, 1980; Clayton & Birren, 1980; Kramer, 1990; Pascual-Leone, 1990, among others) the attainment of high levels of reasoning (e.g., dialectical reasoning) is seen as a condition necessary, though insufficient in itself, for resolving complex and ill-structured dilemmas. Pascual-Leone (1990), for example, advocates that wisdom results from the dialectical integration of affect, cognition, and life experiences. When the integration of these dimensions acquires amplitude and cohesion the person may then exhibit wisdom. Such integration is the result of the ego's struggle to resolve the contradictions that emerge from among life projects, values, motives, self-evaluation and one's evaluation by others, one's own ideals and one's actual conduct, and alternative bodies of knowledge, among other things. For Pascual-Leone (1983, 1990), the origin of the movement toward wisdom is found in the subject's disposition to will to be. This disposition is a motive that propels the person toward human growth. According to Pascual-Leone, this disposition essentially derives from child-rearing patterns the subject has experienced, and mentors or models he/she had as a child. Like other authors who have examined the concept of wisdom, Pascual-Leone (1990) attributes an exceptional capacity for counseling, decentration, and empathetic understanding to the person displaying wisdom. The comparative study of creativity, intelligence, and wisdom led Pascual-Leone (1990), like Sternberg, to conclude that these 3 dimensions constitute 'different products of the mind' (p. 272). Wisdom differs from intelligence and creativity because, unlike these, it incorporates cognition, affect, and personality in a unified whole. Wisdom appears with the development of increasingly higher levels of affect and self-control that progressively lead to a better integration of personality. This integration produces a weakening of ego-centered characteristics, allowing for enhanced intuition and empathic understanding of the other, of the world, and of nature. If, from the theoretical point of view, conceptualizations of wisdom that integrate cognition and affect constitute a more thorough approach to wisdom, this integration does raise important problems from the research standpoint. Perhaps this is why 'the authors seem to be more descriptive than empirically oriented' (Birren & Fisher, 1990, p. 330). Most authors who study wisdom do not see it from a cognitive-developmental perspective

For instance, the life span model of wisdom and the methodology (essentially summative, with wisdom being defined by the average of the scores in each of the 5 criteria) proposed by Baltes and coworkers lacks a cognitive-developmental perspective. Kitchener and Brenner (1990), Kramer (1990), and Arlin (1990), are among the few who analyze wisdom in the light of their studies of adult cognitive development. According to Kitchener and Brenner (1990), who have provided a model that describes the development of reflective judgment (see also Kitchener & King, 1981), there are four aspects of wisdom which are closely related to the development of reflective judgment: (1) awareness of the existence of unavoidably difficult, 'thorny' problems specific to adult lives; (2) comprehensive knowledge, characterized by both breadth and depth; (3) recognition that knowledge is uncertain and that it is impossible to know the whole truth; and (4) exceptional ability to formulate sound and executable judgments in the face of uncertainty. In order to be capable of such an attitude in the face of complex and ill-structured real-life problems, subjects must possess superior reflective abilities. Reflective judgment develops through seven stages, diagnosable by means of the Reflective Judgment Scale (Kitchener and King, 1985). In the opinion of Kitchener and Brenner (1990), subjects who are at the earlier or middle stages of reflective judgment do not show wisdom when faced with complex situations. Subjects at the higher levels of the Scale are more likely to do so. The last stage of the Scale (in which subjects make good judgments about difficult, wicked-decision problems characteristic of adult life; recognize the limits of personal knowledge; show acknowledgment of the general uncertainty that characterizes human knowledge; realize that knowledge results from a complex process of synthesizing evidence and opinions, and show humility about the potential value of their judgments in the face of such limitations) is, according Kitchener and Brenner (1990), a pre-requisite of wisdom. The results of various studies (cf. Lynch & Kitchener, 1989; Kitchener, King, Wood & Davison, 1989) show that adolescents are not able to reach the highest stages of the Reflective Judgment Scale, and that most university students do not exhibit reasoning beyond level 4. The Scale's uppermost level has been identified only in highly cultured middle-aged adults (Kitchener & King, 1990a).

The basic premises of cognitive developmental theories are that development occurs along qualitative different sequences of stages and that reasoning and behavior are strongly associated with the level of cognitive complexity ( see Brendel, Kolbert & Foster, 2002; Hood & Deopere, 2002). According to Kramer (1990), there are five highly interrelated functions of wisdom that could aid in fulfilling the tasks of adult life. One of these is the role wisdom plays in enabling the individual to resolve dilemmas and make decisions in his or her life. A second function of wisdom is that of advising others. Wisdom's third function is to manage and guide society, while the fourth is that of life review. The fifth function of wisdom is the questioning of life's meaning. There are cognitive and affective processes that facilitate the development of wisdom in all of its functions. From the cognitive perspective, the attainment of the relativistic and, especially, the dialectical levels of thinking constitutes a pre-requisite for subjects' resolving such situations with wisdom. Relativistic thinking-unlike absolutistic thinking, which postulates the existence of invariable, fixed, and unchangeable truths- involves the awareness of the subjective, arbitrary nature of knowledge (Kramer, 1983) and the awareness of the ill-structured, unpredictable nature of events (Kramer, 1990). Dialectical thinking makes possible more integrated forms of thought. Subjects who think dialectically are aware of the interactive nature of all events and take into consideration the interdependence, rather than the independence, of the different variables in problem situations. Research shows that dialectical thinking is found in only a minority of people, and then, only in some middle-aged and older adults (cf. Kramer, 1990; Kramer, Kahlbaugh & Goldston, 1992).

According to Kramer, these cognitive processes constitute a necessary, but insufficient, condition for the resolving of complex and ill-structured problems with wisdom- insufficient, because, for wisdom to be present, it is necessary that cognitive development be accompanied by ego development. Kramer postulates that subjects at the highest stages of Loevinger's Ego Development Model (l976), being capable of reflecting upon social conventions, of accepting the polarities of the ego, of making decisions that take into account individuality and social responsibility, ought to manifest wisdom. But she recognizes, however, that ego development, even though a necessary condition, may not be sufficient in itself for the manifestation of wisdom. There are indeed subjects with well-integrated personalities who are extremely insensitive to ill-structured problems.

For Arlin (1990), wisdom presupposes more the identification of problems (problem finding) and of the questions that arise around them, than the solving of problems. Problem finding involves (1) reflection on the nature of problems (specifically, ill-defined ones) and on the processes by which problems are solved, and (2) the coordination of multiple sources and systems of references (Arlin, 1984). Although a necessary condition, problem finding is not a sufficient condition for being wise. In Arlin's words (1990, p. 231) 'wisdom and problem finding are not the same phenomenon. In some contexts it might be argued that problem finding is a necessary but not sufficient condition for wisdom. One can be a problem finder without being particularly wise, but it is difficult to conceive of a wise person who does not ask questions whose forms reflect the highest level of problem finding'. According to Arlin (1984), thinking evolves from the mere resolution of problems (a dominant activity in adolescent thought) to the identification of problems (a constant and distinctive activity in adult thought).

Research on wisdom

Empirical studies on wisdom are few. Some authors who investigate this concept do so through the analysis of writings of people who have given proof of wisdom (for example, some passages from the Diary of Ann Frank), of proverbs, or of famous decisions (for example, the verdict of Solomon); through the analysis of implicit theories of wisdom (cf. Chandler & Holliday, 1990; Clayton & Birren, 1980; Holliday & Chandler, 1986; Sternberg, 1985, 1990); or through the analysis of several factors that can affect the development of wisdom, such as gender, (cf. Orwoll & Achenbaum, 1993), cultural milieu (cf. Takahashi & Overton, 2002), or abiding interests (cf. Rathunde, 1995), among others. Others have studied wisdom by making use of methodologies based on the conceptual frameworks they defend.

Research on implicit theories of wisdom

The research carried out on implicit theories of wisdom (i.e., common sense theories, or folk conceptions), analyzes the terms used to describe both wisdom and those said to be wise, as well as the most typical indicators of wisdom. Results of these studies (cf. Clayton & Birren, 1980; Holliday & Chandler, 1986; Sternberg, 1985; 1987) have shown that the concepts of wisdom and the wise person are an integral part of everyday speech. In a sample of approximately 500 subjects, Holliday & Chandler (1986), for example, examined the descriptors attributed to persons considered to be wise. They identified exceptional understanding and communication, and general competence and social discretion, with the first two considered by most subjects as the most distinctive indicators of wisdom. Using a multidimensional scale, Sternberg (1985, 1990) compared conceptions of wisdom with conceptions of intelligence and creativity in laypeople and in teachers of art, philosophy, management, and physics. The results identified the following indicators: (1) superior reasoning ability; (2) sagacity; (3) superior ability to learn through exchange of ideas or through interactions with their environments; (4) exceptional judgment; (5) expeditious use of information; and (6) perspicacity. Sagacity was considered the most specific indicator of wisdom. Interviewing one hundred fifty-five men and 233 woman, aged 20 to 79, Denney, Dew & Kroupa (1995) asked them to name both the wisest and the most interpersonally wise individuals they knew personally, and to give the age and sex of each. The results showed that there are age differences in individuals' implicit theories of wisdom; that, for the most part, men and women have similar views about wisdom; and that males are more often named as wisest, and females as most interpersonally wise.

Research on explicit theories of wisdom

Of all the studies on wisdom, very few deal with explicit theories concerning it. Those who have done the most research on wisdom are Baltes and co-workers, who examine it by means of the method of 'thinking aloud' about complex problems having to do with planning, management, and review of life of fictitious persons (see Staudinger, Smith & Baltes, 1994). An example of one of these dilemmas is as follows: A woman decided to dedicate herself to her family and not have a career; she married and had children. One day she met an old friend whom she hadn't seen in a long time. This friend long ago had decided to focus more on her career than on having a family. Now she is on the way to becoming a successful professional. This meeting prompted the woman to review the life she had led up until now (Staudinger, Smith & Baltes, 1994, p. 18).

After reading the dilemma, subjects are asked to think aloud about the eventual life review of the main character, and to interpret and evaluate the most important events covered by it. Responses are assessed according to 5 criteria delineated by Baltes et al. (cf. Staudinger, Smith & Baltes, 1994) to characterize wisdom, specifically: (1) rich factual knowledge (i.e., a body of well-organized knowledge about human nature and about life circumstances - motives, emotions, vulnerability, mortality, social norms, significant life events and their occurrence in relation to age, and psychological needs of the individual); (2) rich procedural knowledge about life problems (i.e., knowledge of strategies and heuristic techniques relating to the management and interpretation of events, taking into consideration the past, the present, and the future; the ability to analyze a particular problem in cost/benefit terms, the ability to take decisions, to make an action plan, to observe one's own emotional reactions and those of others; and the ability to give advice at opportune times); (3) life span contextualism (i.e., the awareness that people, or life events, belong to a web of complex relationships involving family or professional life or leisure pursuits, relating to the past, the present, or the future); (4) relativism (i.e., the knowledge that people pursue different objectives and interpret events in different ways, according to their values, priorities, and the culture they live in); and (5) uncertainty (i.e., the knowledge that there are no absolute certainties in life, that life is relatively unpredictable, and that life's decisions, interpretations, and plans are never free of uncertainty; the knowledge that no-one has access to all information and that the future cannot be totally controlled but that, nevertheless, people can take decisions and engage in action.)

Baltes et al. (Baltes & Smith, 1990; Smith, Staudinger & Baltes, 1994), hypothesize, as mentioned above, that there are specific factors influencing the development of wisdom, namely: chronological age, the deep experience of a wide range of human conditions, the experience of being a tutor or mentor, and motivational dispositions, such as generativity. The results of a study (cf. Smith, Staudinger & Baltes, 1994; Staudinger, Smith & Baltes, 1992) that examined the influence of the factors of chronological age (young/elderly) and professional specialization (clinical psychologists/other professionals) on the performance of the tasks of reviewing and planning life show that few subjects gave responses that reveal wisdom; that the performance of elderly subjects was similar to that of young adults, and that the clinical psychologists performed better than the subjects from other professions. A study carried out by Marchand (1998), in which Baltes' methodology was used and in which the performance of young, middle-aged, and older adults from different professions (teachers/non-teaching professionals) was compared, found results partially consistent with those of Baltes et al. The results showed (1) that there were few responses of the highest level of wisdom-related knowledge in all age groups, (2) that middle-aged adults outperformed both young and old age groups, and (3) that teachers did not outperform control groups. The first result is consistent with previous findings (see Smith, Staudinger & Baltes, 1994; Staudinger, Smith & Baltes, 1992) which showed that few individuals give responses corresponding to the highest level of wisdom-related knowledge. The second result fails to confirm the widely raised hypothesis that older adults would demonstrate the highest levels of performance. The older adults' results were not inferior to those of the young adults, but they were inferior to those of middle-aged adults. The third result shows that the teachers' training and their practice of the teaching profession are not sufficient for the development of wisdom-related knowledge. More recently, a study using Baltes' methodology was carried out, in which the performance of adolescents in ill-defined life dilemmas was compared to that of young adults (see Pasupathi, Staudinger & Baltes, 2001). Adolescents performed at lower levels than young adults, but also demonstrated substantial age-related improvements in performance. According the authors 'adolescents are, like adults, not wise. Unlike adults, however, they are becoming wiser with advancing years, and understanding this process may teach us much about the origins of wisdom' (p. 360). In a study in which the responses of three groups of adults (young, middle-aged and old) to wisdom dilemmas were analyzed from a cognitive-developmental perspective (see Marchand, 2002), three levels of responses were identified. The first level was characterized by responses in which subjects each focus on one of the characters in the dilemma, dichotomize the situation, and evaluate their behavior and choices above all in a bipolar way, in terms of correct or incorrect; in which behavior, choices, and personality are seen as stable, or fixed; in which opinions are stated categorically, with no uncertainty, doubts, or conflicts; and in which subjects tend to reduce a complex, ill-structured problem to a well-structured one. At the second level, subjects begin to view the options and decisions as relative, idiosyncratic, and as depending upon situational factors; contexts, priorities, and the goals of each character begin to be taken into account; and options, still seen as right/wrong, are considered to be contingent, relative to each person and, possibly, susceptible to being changed and re-evaluated. At the third level subjects become capable of going beyond the specific situation, raise various hypotheses, and compare options and rationales; and choices are no longer evaluated according to the right/wrong dichotomy, but are now viewed as the result of a complex interactive process in which contexts, priorities, and the goals of the different players are constantly evaluated and re-evaluated. The distribution of subjects among the three response levels shows (a) that few adults were at level 3; (b) that middle-aged adults gave the highest percentage of level 3 responses; and (c) that older adults outperformed young adults but didn't outperform middle-age adults. These data are consistent with those obtained by Kitchener, King, Wood & Davison (1989) and by Kramer & Woodruff (1986), who show (1) that the number of subjects demonstrating higher levels of thinking is small, and (2) that manifestations of dialectical thinking and of the highest levels of reflectivity only begin to appear in middle age.

Environments that develop wisdom

Most authors who offer conceptualizations of wisdom have not looked closely at the question of possible interventions to stimulate its development. Pascual-Leone (1983, 1990) attributes the subject's disposition toward development and transcendence (his/her will to be) to the upbringing and to the role models he/she had as a child, though he doesn't characterize these. For Meacham (1990) - one of the few authors who do describe the nature of environments that promote wisdom-it develops in a particular type of atmosphere that he terms a 'wisdom atmosphere', that constitutes 'a framework of supportive interpersonal relations in which one may safely discover and reveal the limitations of and doubts regarding what one knows as well as be saved from extreme skepticism and paralysis of action through sharing the burden of one's doubts and receiving from others the confidence that comes with knowledge' (p. 209). Absolutist attitudes or claims of a personal, professional, scientific, political or social nature do not foster an atmosphere of wisdom. From Meacham's (1990) perspective, to question oneself as to the nature of knowledge, or as to the value of acquiring success, power, or authority, and sharing these questions with others (especially young people) contributes to the development of wisdom. Both a dogmatic attitude toward knowledge (which usually is accompanied by social isolation and self- centeredness, and which makes it difficult or even impossible to listen to and respect others' opinions) and, conversely, paralyzing doubt (reflected in the inability to enter into dialogue with others or to be encouraged through such exchange of opinions to be more confident about knowing and acting,) thwart the creation of an atmosphere conducive to wisdom. Based on his most recent model of wisdom, the 'balance theory of wisdom', Sternberg (2001a), goes further and holds that schools should explicitly adopt a curriculum for teaching wisdom. In his words, 'we endorse teaching students not only to recall facts and to think critically (and even creatively) about the content of the subjects they learn, but to think wisely about it, too' (op. cit., p. 237). 'Infusing a middle-school curriculum with teaching for wisdom, we believe, can add richness, depth, and orientation to the formation of the higher order thinking skills that the present curriculum sometimes appears to lack.' (op. cit., p. 240). According to Sternberg, teachers ought to be models of wisdom and assume 'a more Socratic approach to teaching than teachers customarily do' (op. cit., p. 238). On their part, students should be capable of constructing and reconstructing knowledge from their own point of view and from the point of view of others.

Some considerations on wisdom

Wisdom is an appealing concept but, as can be seen from this review, it is also an extremely complex one, and not particularly transparent given the multiple dimensions (cognitive, affective and conative) it involves. With regard to the cognitive dimension, authors argue that wisdom presupposes (1) a high level of reflexivity; (2) a thinking that analyzes problems by placing them within a concrete, contextualized reality (a) which facilitates an awareness of the fluid, contradictory, and paradoxical nature of this same reality, and (b) which permits the suitable resolution of particularly complex and ill-structured situations of an interpersonal or intrapersonal nature; (3) a metacognitive style that allows subjects to be aware of the limits of reliability of their own knowledge; 4) a deep understanding regarding differences of values and priorities; and (5) the capacity to appreciate and deal with uncertainty. With regard to the affective dimension, wisdom presupposes sensitivity to certain emotional indicators that make it possible to perceive others' intentions and that facilitate empathetic understanding. From an ego perspective, wise persons ought to manifest (1) a disposition toward interior life, (2) an experienced-based understanding of the external world, (3) tolerance toward ambiguity, (4) a sense of responsibility, (5) an ability to transcend contradiction and polarity, and (6) integrity, autonomy and a sense of identity. Those who exhibit wisdom should also possess certain motivational dispositions such as an appreciation of the ambiguity of everyday life, motivation to seek a deep understanding of people and events while at the same time recognizing the limitations of their knowledge and of their capacity for understanding, and a sense of enjoyment in generativity. The multidimensionality of wisdom raises important problems concerning the research done on it. As was said above, authors have been more discursive than empirically oriented and those who described research generally described 'soft' research in which no variables were manipulated (Birren & Fisher, 1990). The research carried out on explicit theories of wisdom is scarce and lacunary. The life span research on wisdom ( see Baltes & Smith, 1990), for instance, lacks a cognitive-developmental perspective. The cognitive-developmental perspective (see Arlin, 1990; Kramer, 1990; Kitchener & King, 1990) which views wisdom as an advanced stage of thought ( e.g., Arlin, 1990; Kitchener & Brenner, 1990; Kramer, 1990; Labouvie-Vief, 1990), has little research in this field, the authors being essentially discursive and admitting that their research, while having relevance for understanding the acquisition of wisdom, was not about wisdom per se. According to these authors the highest levels of thought are only prerequisites for wisdom. The study undertaken by Marchand (2002) in which the responses of three groups of adults (young, middle aged and old) in wisdom dilemmas were analyzed from a cognitive-developmental perspective, lacks the analysis of the affective and conative dimensions. The possession of the high levels of knowledge does not in itself mean that a person is wise. Wisdom is a rare combination of attributes, with cognitive development being only one feature of the array (Kitchener & Brenner, 1990). As Kramer (1990) points out, it is not enough to think dialectically in order to be wise. It is necessary that high levels of cognitive development be integrated with high levels of ego development, and with certain motivational dispositions. The difficulty of approaching wisdom through a scientific analysis which considers all its dimensions reminds us of Wittgenstein's (1953) warnings of the naiveté of empirical psychologists who insist on studying complex human constructs (see Baltes & Smith, 1990). It was (and is) because of the complexity and multidimensionality of wisdom that, for centuries, it has been attributed to very few people, people who have stood out from the majority by their cognitive and empathetic qualities. It is because of the high level of competencies involved that most theorists posit that wisdom constitutes an ideal which the subject or society can strive for, rather than necessarily reach (Baltes & Smith, 1990; Clayton & Birren, 1980; Cornelius & Caspi, 1987; Denney, 1984; Erikson, 1959; Holliday & Chandler, 1986). It is wisdom's complexity, in the end, that leads to the conclusion that it would be difficult to teach it in the school context, according to Sternberg's recent proposal (2001a). This does not mean, however, that we should not teach the tools for wisdom as Kuhn & Udell (2001) propose. Furthermore, this does not mean that all teachers and non-teaching professionals in schools should not be involved in trying to develop an atmosphere of wisdom, in the sense in which Meacham defines it. What remains to find out is whether these interventions are sufficient to develop a topic as complex as wisdom.


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