Measuring Wisdom

What’s New in Psychology?

Measuring Wisdom      

Jim Windell

            Who is a wise person? And how can we determine who is or isn’t wise?

            Certainly, we know that is a subject that interested scholars and philosophers as far back as Socrates. At least we believe this is true based on Plato’s “The Apology.” In that dialogue, Plato relates that the oracle at Delphi proclaimed that Socrates was the wisest man. Exhibiting his humility, Socrates disputed that pointing out that there was much he did not know.

          These days we don’t have to visit the oracle at Delphi to find out who is and who isn’t wise. We have tests that can tell us with reasonable accuracy if a person is wise. Also, these days we know more than ancient philosophers about the importance of wisdom. Research has shown that wisdom has a strong association with overall well-being.

          Previous studies have demonstrated that wisdom is comprised of seven components: self-reflection, pro-social behaviors (such as empathy, compassion and altruism), emotional regulation, acceptance of diverse perspectives, decisiveness, social advising (such as giving rational and helpful advice to others) and spirituality.

           Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have recently found that the seven-item Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index has high validity to measure wisdom. In an article published in International Psychogeriatrics these researchers report that the abbreviated, seven-item scale can help determine with high validity and reliability a person's level of wisdom, a potentially modifiable personality trait.  

          The study's researchers had previously developed the 28-item San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE-28), which has been used in large national and international studies, biological research and clinical trials to evaluate wisdom.

          According to senior author Dilip V. Jeste, MD, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine, “Wisdom measures are increasingly being used to study factors that impact mental health and optimal aging. We wanted to test if a list of only seven items could provide valuable information to test wisdom.

          The latest study surveyed 2,093 participants, ages 20 to 82, and used the seven statements, selected from SD-WISE-28, that relate to the seven components of wisdom. Participants were asked to respond to the seven items by rating them on a 1 to 5 scale, from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Examples of the statements include “I remain calm under pressure” and “I avoid situations where I know my help will be needed.”

          “Shorter doesn't mean less valid,” Jeste commented. “We selected the right type of questions to get important information that not only contributes to the advancement of science but also supports our previous data that wisdom correlates with health and longevity.”

          In addition, the SD-WISE-7 was found to strongly and positively correlate with resilience, happiness and mental well-being and strongly and negatively correlate with loneliness, depression and anxiety.

          Jeste indicated that wisdom can aid in protecting us from loneliness and promote overall well-being. And, he said that there are evidence-based interventions to increase levels of specific components of wisdom.

          Jeste concluded by stating that we need wisdom for surviving and thriving in life. “Now, we have a list of questions that take less than a couple of minutes to answer that can be put into clinical practice to try to help individuals,” he said.

          To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Thomas, M.L., Palmer, B.W., Lee, E.E., Liu, J., Daly, R., Tu, X. M. & Jeste, D.V. (2021). Abbreviated San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE-7) and Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index (JTWI). International Psychogeriatrics; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1041610221002684


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