Wisdom is a socially embedded and thus others-bound human developmental stage.

Wisdom In the West and the East

In Western culture where people are motivated toward independent from others while self-empowering at the same time, wisdom is self-based, personal attribute positioned (espoused) as the ultimate stage of human development. Although it is appropriate to say that Western cultures don’t necessarily disregard the importance of relations with others, self control plays extensive roles in mediating the relational harmony or strain. Thus, developing self-mastery in human vicissitudes and increasing knowledge on life, self, and others are all cognition-based ideal of wisdom taking control in their social relations with others.

In Eastern culture, in contrast, people are encouraged toward interdependence and avoiding relational strain and instead making sure the balanced harmony in relations with others. In this self-criticizing culture, people pay more attention and thus get more stress or positive emotions from the extent of the deficit that people have in catching on others’ needs and expectations as a whole.

Does Wisdom Increase with Age?

Borrowing a chapter title from George Vaillant’s (2002) book, Aging Well, the relationship between the development of wisdom and aging summons a question, ‘whose wisdom are we talking about?’ Aging is a biological process that human beings ought to experience without exception. Unlike the destined universality of aging, the definition of wisdom varies depending on who you ask to and where and when you talk about it. Just as Orwell and Perlmutter’s study (1990), people of differing ages find wisdom nominees of various ages ranging, on average, from 50 to 70. The nominees also vary from family members, teachers, friends, or even acquaintances. The variance of wisdom thus can imply that wisdom is deeply embedded in historical and life course context, let alone personal contents in the development of the wisdom over times and experiences. In order words, wisdom development as a process should not be separated from contents that the process interacts with over the life course.

For better understanding of wisdom, it claims the necessity of investigating the mutual constitution of sociality and psyche through cross-cultural [West vs. East] spectrum (Fiske, et al., 1998). Human actions and decision makings are psychological processes which work in conjunction with individual reality. This personal reality is formulated by recurrent episodes in his/her local worlds that personalize the core ideas which in turn play out throughout the decision making processes. This individual reality, moreover, dwells in socio-psychological processes encompassing social customs, norms, practices, media, legal system, language, and institutions, such as, family, school, work, and retirement over the life course, reflecting and promoting the core ideas. The core ideas in this level mean core cultural ideas, such as, what is good, what is moral, what is self, and what is ecological, economic and sociopolitical value of the life course transitions and pathways (Fiske, et al., 1998). Last but not least, this comprehensive interplay of collective reality and psychosocial individuality can only be understood better by examining cross-cultural (i.e., West vs. East) similarities and differences in the core cultural ideas and their interplays with individuals’ local worlds and psychological structures and processes (Fiske, et al., 1998; Kitayama, et al., 2010; Kitayama, Markus, & Kurokawa, 2000).

In Western culture personal control and mastery are valued as critical precedents for the successful aging and therefore wisdom. It makes sense that where the independent and autonomous individuality is a norm, wisdom is regarded as the ultimate stage in human’s positive human development and thus as a target to attain. In this model of sociality and the self popular in modern social psychology and psychosocial developmental studies, wisdom ought to increase with age at least to certain later life stages as life experiences are expected to accumulate. Erickson’s generativity and integrity comes only after middle ages and coping strategies increase with age (Vaillant, 2002).

Advances toward personal growth or toward the ideal outcomes of personality are of main interest and even personal adjustment tends to be understood as an extended effort to maintain the personal growth (Staudinger & Kunzmann, 2005): Individuals are expected to adjust one’s self to meet his/her own expectations and work for the good of self (aging well) rather than the group, the institution, or the nation (Vaillant, 2002; Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999). With few exceptions, the majority of scientific studies of wisdom tend to apply psychological perspectives focusing merely on wisdom as a psychological capacity in individual worlds. Furthermore, most contemporary social psychological theorizing and empirical studies take the individual person as a given, a naturally isolable analytic category (Fiske, et al., 1998), and, thus, ignore the way the psyche is attuned to cultural meanings, expectations, institutions, relationships, and daily practices,

Whereas wisdom is understood as the highest outcome of self-promotive efforts in Western culture, it lays upon self-criticizing in East Asian culture (Fiske, et al., 1998; Kitayama, et al., 2010; Kitayama, Markus, & Kurokawa, 2000). The focus of life in this culture is the self in relation to others and thus their self-fulfillment should be granted from mutually interdependent relations. Social relationships, roles, norms, and group solidarity are more fundamental and more valued than self-expression. Thus, their psychological processes differ from those of people who predicate their thoughts, feelings, evaluations, plans, and actions on the model of independence. In this culture, people are expected to honor social relations and adjust to meet others’ expectations and work for the good of others. In this regard, wisdom can often times be analogous with sagacity in decision makings that can turn out less intrusive and more harmonious ones.

The interdependent individuals are extensively and constantly expected to conform to norms and to meet collective requirements of social relationships and institutions. From this perspective, an assertive, autonomous, self-centered person is regarded as immature and uncultivated. The maturity, unlike what Vaillant (2002) defined as integrative, spiritual mind that increase with age, develops with self-denying and criticizing of being self-focused while losing interests in the others’ perspective and flexible adaptation to the social requirement of each particular situation. It is not unusual in East Asian countries to see many political and social leaders voluntarily resign for a significant misconduct or immoral actions done by their men (and not even by themselves) for the sake of public acceptance and forgiveness. Wisdom for them pays more attention to the self which is experienced as a relational part of a greater whole rather than as a separate or categorical entity. Also, wisdom for them can be still, if not more, meaningful when it remains unnoticed by others, whereas the self is motivated to discover and identify positively valued internal attributes, including wisdom and ultimately to express it out in Western culture.

In society where the self is encouraged to establish its clear identity and takes charge of life transitions and developmental stages in constant control, wisdom is upward and inbound and therefore strategic, analytic, and exclusive. In contrary, when the self is promoted as wise by finding deficit in them and harmony in relations and sagacity in actions of decision makings and advices, it is downward and outbound and thus reflective, synthetic, and inclusive. Whereas wisdom is a self-enhancing entity in the West, it seeks to eliminate the deficit in the East that the self finds by missing a common, culturally elaborated practice of self-improvement which promotes harmony or unity in the relationship. It simultaneously affirms one’s identity as an interdependent being committed to the shared value of the collective reality and relationship (Fiske, et al., 1998). In this regard, wisdom is less self-promotive and rather more relation-bound, moderate, and self-temperate.

An experimental study found that the strongest predictor of wellbeing and health was personal control in the United States, but the absence of relational strain in Japan (Kitayama, et al., 2010). Humility and modesty are no doubt one of the most needed personality traits in Asian cultural contexts as the self is harmoniously connected to others with minimal strain and tension (Kitayama, et al., 2010; Fiske, et al., 1998). Wisdom becomes more omnipresent instead of scarce over the life course, in this regard, and therefore less challenging. Acknowledging the increasing presence of wisdom with age leads us to be more time-flexible and less tense which otherwise might be gradually more severe with age in the mirage of chasing it. Yes. I believe wisdom increases with age and it makes much more sense in the Eastern culture where wisdom is one to realize in relations and not a hill to occupy in one’s own will.


Carstensen, L.L., Isaacowitz, D.M., & Charles, S.T. (1999). Taking time seriously: A theory of socioemotional selectivity. American Psychologist, 54, 165-181.

Fiske, Alan Page., Kitayama, Shinobu., Markus, Hazel Rose., & Nisbett, Richard E.. (1998). In Gilbert, D. T., Fiske, S. T., & Lindzey, G. (Eds.). The handbook of social psychology. Boston: McGraw-Hill. Pp.915-981

Kitayama, S., Karasawa, M., Curhan, K. B., Ryff, C. D., & Markus, H. R. (2010). Independence and interdependence predict health and wellbeing: divergent patterns in the United States and Japan. Frontiers in psychology, 1.

Kitayama, S., Hazel Rose, M., & Masaru, K. (2000). Culture, Emotion, and Well-being: Good Feelings in Japan and the United States. Cognition and Emotion, 14(1), 93.

Staudinger, U. M., & Kunzmann, U. (2005). Special Section – Human Development and Well-Being – Positive Adult Personality Development: Adjustment and/or Growth? European psychologist., 10(4), 320.

Vaillant, G. (2002). Aging well: Surprising guideposts to a happier life from the landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

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Final Wisdom Project Report

Hwww….That was a busy week!!! Now I am finalizing my semester-long project, entitled,

Wisdom in Life: Searching for the Roots of Positive Human Development throughout the Life Course”

Keywords: lay wisdom, positive human development, the life course, centrality

Here is an abstract for the study:


Considering the increased importance of static happiness and wisdom realization, it is crucial to understand how positive human development is associated with personal life story and experience by using the life course and humanistic perspective. The aim of the present study was to untangle the dynamics of social relations and experiences in an effort to address how consistent or inconsistent characteristics found in life story, social support networks, wisdom nominees in person and history, and personal wisdom experiences are related differently to personal understanding of wisdom and life satisfaction and wellbeing.

A mixed method analysis adopted a nonparametric statistical method and social network analysis for a quantitative confirmation and content analysis for a qualitative specification. The nonparametric t-test indicated that the top 10 wisdom score group had a higher life satisfaction and better health status than the bottom 10 group. Moreover, it valued warmth and harmony more than individualistic attributes as most important wisdom characteristics. The content analysis and network analysis confirmed these distinctions indicating the importance of altruistic, reciprocal attributes as prerequisites for wisdom development.

This is Introduction:


Happiness and Wisdom

Modern societies like ours are getting richer, but are we getting happier and wiser? The rising affluence, which once was believed to be the principal vehicle of a happy life doesn’t seem to secure enhanced happiness (Layard, 2005);(Hall, 2010); (Rustin, 2007); (Bauman, 2008). Zygmunt Bauman (2008), who is one of the leading sociologists in post-modernism, argues that the widening gap between the level of material affluence and happiness lies to large extent in the shift of our notion of defining happiness.

As modern societies pursue monetary attainment and material consumerism, according to Bauman, the secure state of happiness has become less favored and instead “the chase of that stubbornly elusive target that can keep the runners happy” has become normative (Bauman, 2008, p. 8, emphases made in the original). As far as we haven’t lost the hope of becoming happy and thus keep pursuing it, we are secure from unhappiness. In this regard, the key to happiness is to keep the hope alive and ticking.

On the one hand, it seems to go well with capitalism and consumerism. The endless production of new and better goods appears to be so proximal and prevalent that it consistently motivates us to keep working on the pursuit of happiness in the hope that we can obtain these commodities sooner or later. Happiness seems to always exist within our reach and thus attainable. As Bauman sees it, however, there is no finishing line on that track leading to happiness. Since this pursuit of happiness is only functional on condition of an infinite succession of ‘new chances’ and ‘new beginnings,’ it could only result in misleading us to ignore what we’ve got at present and what’s the true value of it. The infinite chain of hope for new starts and opportunities can bring about slicing life into episodic pieces disregarding the fact that “acts have consequences that outlive them” (Bauman, p. 18).

Understanding that the pursuit of happiness can never end and rather life is a work of art as a process and not an event, how then we can free ourselves from modern pulse of ‘higher man’ which, according to Friedrich Nietzsche (Samuel, 2002), is an ideal recipe for a fully mastered, happy human, and instead become a beneficiary of a steady and continuous state of happiness?

Blaise Pascal once noted that “the sole cause of human unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room” (Pascal & Krailsheimer, 1968), as cited by Zygmunt Bauman, 2008). What then would be necessary to reach that state and find us flourishing therein? What’s the role of personality and life history in the positive human development?

Instead of containing ourselves in episodic efforts to search for short-term strategies and instant gratification, I propose that we need to explore answers in wisdom study by taking more procedural and life course context into consideration.

Significant Aims and Research Questions

The main aim for the study is to untangle the effects of consistent/inconsistent wisdom characteristics on wisdom development throughout the life course. More specifically, I envision to (1) illustrate relational features of wisdom characteristics found in wisdom nominee and personal wisdom definition; (2) to examine laypeople’s perception and attitude on their life story and wonder experience and its relationship with wisdom development; and (3) to investigate how the social network and historical wisdom nominee affect on the consistency of wisdom characteristics and development. For this project, I paid close attention to the first aim which was to investigate relational similarities and differences between personal wisdom exemplars and wisdom definition.

The unique gravity of my inquiry and argument can be captured in its new sociological perspective utilized not only intrapersonally, but interpersonally and cross-culturally. As I investigated in detail below, the current state of knowledge on the personality and its relations with positive human development is predominantly led by psychological studies focusing on intraindividual cognitive functions. One of the overarching assumptions and premises in psychological studies is that the external stimuli are given in a certain measurable form ready to be internalized and framed out. Acknowledging its pioneering works and leading roles in human development study, in order to have better understanding on unique and yet dynamic human character development, however, it is critical to seek out rich contextual and historical evidences which manifest the existence of inextricable, lifelong human networks and their nurturing effects on the positive human character development throughout the life course.

Taking us beyond the realm of personas to the roots and the roles of life story and social relations, my argument of the importance of “lay wisdom”, therefore, can empower the current status of wisdom and will extend our knowledge of universal prerequisites needed for cultivating and maintaining the positive human characters. I claim that we need to explore sociological roots of good human character by looking at the characteristics of social relations and their effects on the experience of wisdom portrayed in a form of personal narratives about their life stories and wisdom experiences throughout the life course.

Taking these into consideration, the research questions for the wisdom study are 1) how is wisdom understood differently among two extreme groups of wisdom scorers (e.g., top 10 vs. bottom 10)?; 2) what’s the relationship between wisdom nominee and personal wisdom definition?; 3) how and to what extent does personal life story and wonder experience interplay with wisdom nomination and personal definition?; 4) when do people think they are wise?; and 5) how is wisdom understood differently in between wisdom nominee in person and in history? For this project, I dealt with the first and second research questions which are about the comparison between two extreme groups of wisdom scorers in terms of their personal understanding of wisdom and explanation of wisdom exemplars’ characteristics.

Figure1. The conceptual model: The Effects of Social Relations with Wisdom Nominee on Wisdom Development

Research Rationale: The Importance and Timeliness of Lay Wisdom Research

Why is Wisdom Rare?

My argument in terms of these big questions begins with a challenging mind to a current notion in both academia and society on wisdom. Just like contemporary notion of the pursuit of happiness, I claim that the status of wisdom has been inflated as one of religious marvel and philosophical pinnacle. Our society asks us to pursue more knowledge and wisdom. My premise is that, just like the importance of static happiness, we have wisdom within ourselves and thus we are already capable of being wiser.

In this regard, I claim that the contemporary wisdom status should discharge its normative elitism and exclusive turf to wider and more general ground in which laypeople experience life vicissitudes and ultimately realize wisdom. As Stephan Hall (2010) noticed after an extensive review on the wisdom literature and empirical studies for his current book, Wisdom: From philosophy to neuroscience, “we can find wisdom not only on the steps of Parthenon, but also around a family dinner table” (p. 14). The private, the domestic and the familial domain, according to Hall (2010), is the place where wisdom happens and has its greatest lifelong impact.

We should take it back near to us so as to be searched out as a nurturing essence of positive human nature. Spinoza once said that “Philosophy should be a school of thought investigating on revelation of wisdom and not attainment of knowledge” (as cited by Stephen S. Hall, 2010, p. 37). Not to mention philosophy, for lay people wisdom shouldn’t be a target to attain. It is not even something that we need to chase expecting to conquer. Rather, it has been around us at very close proximity, within social relations and in between interactions with others (Fuller, 2006).

Just like Candide’s confession in Voltaire’s satire novel (1759) after coming back from a long journey on a harsh, real land, in a pursuit of happiness, (Adler, Fadiman, Goetz, & Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1990), pp. 873-885), what we need to do is realize the fact that the value of life is in the living. The presence, worthiness, and values of wonder and wisdom can only be understandable, if not reachable, by experiencing life vicissitudes in real world.

From Modernity to Post-Modernity

Our current societies, according to Zygmunt Bauman (2008), have brought profound change to all aspects of the human condition by experiencing a significant shift from a ‘heavy, hardware-focused modernity’ to a ‘light, liquid, software-based post-modernity. Liberating from universal agenda and general rules and homogeneous norms and features expecting individuals to be a royal follower in a unified form, this postmodern society we live in contests taken-for-granted knowledge and expectations (Seidman, 2008).

In the midst of transformation from modernity to post-modernity, social units lose their subject to pay loyalty and thus loose up its unitarity. As a result, the unity of general society has started to fall apart and instead generated individual confusion and social segregation mainly led by capitalism. Although capitalism has been successful in terms of its universal power in unifying the world under the realm of productivity and efficiency, it also has spawned insatiable, growth-oriented life style and a new pursuit of happiness. Treating happiness as a target to pursuit and expecting an expansion-based way of life render our society fiercely competitive and separated. Amid illusionary pursuit of mirage, both societies and individuals misplace the value of stability and balance to an invisible hand of the market economy and become irresponsible and bewildered.

The current rarity of wisdom discourse, therefore, I argue, is not free from the critique of modernity. Unlike the increased demands of new socio-psychological information on individuality and the life experience, and its roots and roles in positive human development, I claim that the current status of wisdom is still safeguarded by religious dogma and philosophical elitism with which many intellectuals and politicians tend to put sophisticated and yet power-friendly social norms and virtues into the web of wisdom discourse and exemplars by putting lay people’s life course dynamics under increasing surveillance and control (Foucault, 1979).

I argue that we need to deflate this instant glorification of the role of wisdom and to extend its functional range to somewhat unnoticed and yet indispensable laws of life. This search for the universal traits and circumstantial attributes by which good human characters flourish needs to focus on the relationship between the personality and the life experience.

Again, by targeting audiences who see wisdom as so remote and rare that it seems to belong to supreme philosophy and divine religiosity, my new line of inquiry is based on my premise that if wisdom is essentially unattainable and belongs to the upper turf of thoughts and beliefs, as Robinson (1990), Immanuel Kant (as cited by Adler et al., 1990), and Paul Baltes et al (1995, 2000(Adler, et al., 1990; Baltes & Staudinger, 2000; Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith, 1995; Robinson, 1990) concurred, why don’t we make it come to us through a way of realization?

Wisdom in Life: Is Wisdom for Attainment or for Realization?

The life processes, the ups and downs of life, teach that wisdom requires us to see the utility of hardship, and that experiencing hardship amplifies our appreciation of happiness and wellness. When we are unable to integrate both ends of the spectrum, we resist or become defeated by hardship, change, and loss (Ardelt & Oh, 2010).

Life crises and hardships do not automatically lead to wisdom. People will only grow wiser if they are willing and able to learn from their life experiences and be transformed in the process (Moody, 1986). Integrating and using our experiences informs our future choices, thoughts, and behaviors. In this regard, wisdom takes into account multiple traits in personality development discourse. Taking a life lesson demands not only cognitive awareness, but, more importantly, reflective and affective efforts. Integration and constructive usage of our experiences, thus, entail a multidimensional wisdom approach (Ardelt, 1997, 1998; 2000a, 2000b, 2003, 2004, 2007; Ardelt & Oh, 2010; Sternberg, 1998; Sternberg & Jordan, 2005).

In fact, wisdom is not a matter of having a coping strategy. In combination with cognitive, affective, and reflective motivations, it involves the possibility of real growth and transformation (Ardelt, 2007; Sternberg & Jordan, 2005; Randall & Kenyon, 2001; Staudinger & Kessler, 2008; Staudinger & Kunzmann, 2005). Without openness to experience and personal transformation, crises and hardships might result in depression and despair rather than wisdom development (Allport, 1961; Ardelt 1998, 2005; Bianchi, 1994; Erikson, 1964, 1980, 1982; Erikson et al., 1986; Pascual-Leone, 2000).

In a nutshell, the development of wisdom might not depend on what people experience, but on how they deal with events (Holliday and Chandler, 1986, emphases made in the original) throughout the life course. This defines the role of personality and social relations in the development of wisdom. The strategies of growth and self-regulation in association with balanced self- and relational-knowledge, in this regard, are basic criteria for wisdom development (Staudinger & Kessler, 2008).

In the following lines, I provide theoretical and empirical literature in both sociology and psychology focusing on how and to what extent the life-course perspectives and humanistic personality approaches can contribute to the development of wisdom and how growth and adjustment interact with each other in a continuum of searching for happiness and better meaning and quality of life.

Literature Review

The life Course Perspectives

A major point of sociological analysis in the life course is to reveal that even though human organisms have the potential to interact with social structures and institutions, this potential, in many cases, is not realized nor even recognized with increased age (Dannefer & Uhlenberg, 1999).

Berger and Luckmann’s book, The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge, (1966) and Holstein and Gubrium’s book, Constructing the life course (2000) jointly claim, however, that unlike the conventional, collectivist point of view, the current, constructivist perspective on the life course sheds more lights on the individual’s heterogeneous ways of seeing and interpreting the world. Human beings as more active, independent beings not only receive social objects and systems but also create them (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Considering that the perspective on the life course is changing from a collective to a constructive view, it is noteworthy to revisit the implications of more heterogeneous individuals through Erik Erikson’s moratorium spectrum.

Erikson (1982) notices that each stage has some sort of psychosocial moratorium that gives each novice some extra time to master that stage. Particularly in the transitional period from childhood to adulthood, and from midlife to late adulthood, social institutions work as guides, allowing novices to be relatively free from either upcoming or existing adult responsibilities so that they can develop their identities within guiding social structures and norms.

Riesman (1950) and Mead (1970) characterize Erikson’ s era as a shifting period from the traditional-oriented type (postfigurative society) to the inner-directed type (cofigurative society). Inner-directed people exercise choice and initiative to some extent, but the general heading and pattern of acceptable behavior is set before they embark upon their next life stages. Thus, the resulting individuality is not a threat to the social order for its increased self-governance and emotional adjustment within the social realm (Riesman, 1950)

Côté (2006), however, claims that this is no longer the case. The recent prolongation of youth, as characterized in terms of widespread, longer education participation along with the diminished normative structure governing the transition to adulthood, result in the extension of the identity stage beyond adolescence and even young adulthood. Cowgill (1974) notices that as society becomes more mobile and individualized, the social status of the elderly who used to be regarded most wise among other age groups has decreased, leaving less room for them to dwell longer in a modern society as a productive social agent and thus making harder for them to adjust to an advanced age successfully.

The institutionalized moratorium has shifted from exceptional to normative events in postmodern societies (Côté, 2006), and it has given rise to other-directed (Riesman, 1950) and prefigurative society (Mead, 1970), where parents, adult children and societal institutions no longer have as much authority or obligation as before and where young people and old people alike are asked for an increased degree of self-identity, self-determination and emotional adjustment.

Personality Theories and Researches

Traditional emphases in personality theory and research can be summarized as tripodic features: individual differences, motivation, and holism (Caprara & Cervone, 2000). How are persons different from one another? What sorts of temperaments, traits, and types do people have? The structure of human individuality is the main concern for studying individual personality differences. The inquiry into causes of this human personality spectrum comes down to motivation. What energizes and directs the person’s behavior? What are the internal and external engines of human action which contribute to individual difference?

The dynamics of human action thus run parallel to motivational diversity, and its analysis requires a holistic approach to understanding personality (Caprara & Cervone, 2000). “In a nutshell, personality psychologists focus their attention on the agentic (goal-directed) individuality of whole persons” (Robins, Fraley, & Krueger, 2007, pp.5-6). Personality psychologists seek ultimately to make sense of individual persons as integrated and intentional agents, living in a complex social world (Caprara & Cervone, 2000).

Generally speaking, the abyss of human personality has been explored in three intertwined schools of social psychology: psychodynamics, behaviorism, and humanism (Caprara & Cervone, 2000). Freud’s triad analysis of the psychodynamics—id, ego, and superego—and Carl Jung’s collective unconscious scrutinize the dynamic forces hidden deep within us. For John B. Watson (1913), on the other hand, attention should be paid to the importance of learning to respond to environmental stimulation. From Ivan Pavlov’s conditional reflex studies to B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theories, the essential keynotes of personality research focus on our outward behavior rather than internal states such as feelings and unconscious dynamics, relying on observable behavior that could be objectively measured and recorded (Caprara & Cervone, 2000).

Humanistic approach

Unlike psychoanalytic theory and the early behaviorists, who saw human behavior as responsive to instincts or the environment (given conditions), humanistic-constructivist theory claims that personal growth is the product not only of what kinds of experience people have, but more importantly, of how people experience them. Its emphasis on self-awareness and human capability to shape our own lives through choice (Rathus & Nevid, 1980) takes the theme of growth-driven adjustment perspective into the center of human personality development. We can interpret conditions with determined willpower and initiate our own behavior through our conscious awareness and self-knowledge (Maslow, 1970; Rogers, 1951; Horney, 1970; Deci, 1980). Humanistic theories ask how people can achieve authentic living while resisting pressures to blindly follow given conditions and circumstantial constraints throughout the life course.

Self-Actualization and Growth

Abraham Maslow (1970), one of the humanistic scholars, believed that human beings do more than just react to environmental demands. In fact, his writings claim that what separates human beings from lesser creatures (primitives) is the capacity for self-actualization, or self-initiated strivings to achieve our potentials. Through striving to live up to our potential and to experience life, we create new demands for adjustment. But by doing so, we can reap great pleasure and experience personal growth (Rathus & Nevid, 1980).

Carl Rogers’ (1951) self theory emphasizes learning about oneself as a basis for personal growth and feelings of well-being. He believes that human nature is basically good and growth-oriented; thus, self-actualization requires integrity and psychological congruence —in short, self-acceptance. Self-idealization is another element that, according to Rogers, motivates us to reduce the differences between our self-concepts and self-ideals.

According to his humanistic model, we are happiest when our goals seem possible and reachable, and we continue to strive forward to achieve them. The more important point of his humanistic model is the acknowledgment of the fact that we may never quite get them, but the process of striving, the good struggle, gives our lives their meaning and their purpose (Rathus & Nevid, 1980). Personal growth, in this regard, can be defined as “self-initiated efforts to become whatever we believe we are capable of being” (Rathus & Nevid, 1980, p. 110).

It results from meeting demands to adjust and elevating ourselves beyond mere adjustment (Staudinger & Kunzmann, 2005; Staudinger & Kessler, 2008). Its maladjustment stems from failure to use the crisis as an opportunity for growth (Erikson, 1964; Rathus & Nevid, 1980). Erikson came to view the identity growth crisis not only motivational as a time of strife and personal upheaval, but also as opportunity for change. The emotional impact of the identity crisis provides the impetus for growth and decision making (Rathus & Nevid, 1980, p. 30).

Self-Realization and Growth

More than a century ago, John Dewey (1893 [1969]) criticized the then-current notion of the self as a presupposed, fixed schema. His substitute was “the self as always a concrete specific activity and therefore, of the identity of self and realization” (p. 653). The idea of realization implies the conception of capacities or possibilities concerning unrealized powers (capacities), which will avoid difficulties (Dewey, 1893 [1969]). Instead of acting to create some presupposed ideal self, he argues that realizing capacity means acting to realize their full meaning. The notion of a working or practical self as opposed to that of a fixed or presupposed self, thus, dwells in the conception of capacity not as a general from, but as an individualized organism concerning both individual and communal interests (Dewey, 1893[1969]).

In her book Neurosis and Human Growth, initiated from clinical and therapeutic interest in the pathological human psyche, Karen Horney (1970) claims that self-realization plays a critical role in overcoming a human’s neurotic obsession with perfection. According to Horney, neurosis is defined as “a process which drives him farther and farther away from his real self and which thus endangers his personal growth” (p. 333). Striving for perfection and superiority to others makes the neurotic egocentric and more isolated emotionally and socially, and, ultimately, makes externalizations more difficult. As a result of all these distortions, the insecurity the neurotic feels in regard to others is considerably reinforced (Horney, 1970)

Horney claims the best way to deal with these destructive neuroses is an autonomous realization of one’s potential so as to achieve free, healthy development of the self as part of a bigger, growing, organismic whole. By having the self-awareness and realization of their capabilities actually outgrow their neurotic egocentricity, people will become more aware of the broader issues involved in their particular life and in the world at large (Horney, 1970).

Self-Determination and Growth

Self-determination theory is about humans’ capacity and will to choose (Deci, 1980). It shares its emphasis on positive human capacity with other humanistic perspectives, in that it holds that people have considerable capacity to choose behaviors based on inner desires and autonomous perceptions and interpretations of general conditions. It embraces both an organismic and a socio-contextual framework for the study of personality growth and development (Deci & Ryan, 2002). For an organismic perspective, self-determination theory conceives of humans as active, growth-oriented organisms that engage with challenges in their environment. These challenges require “cognitive, affective, and motivational processes as mediators of behavior which is an actualization of their potentialities, capacities, and sensibilities” (Deci, 1980, p. 207).

This organismic capacity to choose interacts either constructively or destructively with environmental and nonconscious forces (Deci & Ryan, 2002). Considering this dialectic relation between the individual and society, adjustment is defined as a process of people’s perception of causality from internal to external reward that accompanies the underlying motivational change (Deci & Ryan, 2002). Deci (1980) argues that when this adjusting process occurs, people’s intrinsic motivation tends to decrease, and so does their sense of competence and self-determination. On the other hand, when external factors promote choice and confidence in response to a person’s initiations, they will facilitate a shift from the extrinsic to the intrinsic motivational subsystem. Thus, the perceived locus of causality will become more internal (Deci, 1980).

Development is self-directed and thus intentional (Brandstädter, et al., 1999; Greve, Rothermund, and Wentura, 2005). Despite the variance in magnitude and action strategies, individuals take the initiative in setting particular goals and then regulate steps to achieve those goals. In a study of perceived benefits of stress among rape victims, Burt and Katz (1987) claim that self-determined activity plays a huge role as a major dimension of growth.

Personality and Environment: Its Mutuality and Diversity

It is true that personality is less free from sociocultural constructs than personal interplay. Ford and Lerner (1992) agree that there are two primary factors contributing to the variance of goals: personal predilection and sociocultural influences. Neugarten (1969) and Dannefer and Uhlenberg (1999) confirm the importance of sociocultural patterning of social roles in adult life-course trajectories. Changing expectations for social roles in young and old adulthood can also be characterized by sociocultural patterns.

Moreover, personality orientation may be interpreted differently even in the same social circumstances. Deci and Ryan (2002) ask why negative feedback may be useful to some people while leaving others helpless and nonresponsive. They claim the variance of individuality and behavior depends on the types of feedback from social interactions as well as the quality of internalization, to which self-determination and capacity for willpower can contribute (Deci & Ryan, 2002).

It is no doubt that social relations and interactions are prerequisite to human cognition and emotion. As a social being, people are destined to interact with others and among many others intergenerational relations play out as a reservoir of memories and events that outlast any stage in their life courses (Bengtson, Robertson, National Institute for the, William Petschek National Jewish Family, & National Conference on Grandparenting and Family; Bengtson & Schaie; King, Silverstein, Elder, Bengtson, & Conger, 2003). These resources wait for awareness, revival, and reevaluation with unlimited access. Wisdom as emotional, reflective, and cognitive action and reaction can lay out a bridge for us to go back to the life we have lived and to help us come up with more humble and open-mined perspective on the present world and future life.

Another important contribution that the humanistic and the life course perspectives can make is reevaluating family values and social virtues with regard to having elderly members and interacting with them. Despite the argument of their decreasing social status (Cowgill, 1974), the elderly, whether in a familial setting or in society, have more to give than we might think. In this regard, it is critical, I argue, to revalue the benefits that individuals in youth-driven society can get from the experience of wisdom and life wonder that the elderly might possess more after the long life passage with rich experiences. In brief, the study of the effects of social, intergenerational relations on the experience of wisdom and the development of wisdom can contribute to the efforts of finding optimal and more balanced social and human characteristics.

Research Design, Data Analysis, Result, and final comments will continue to be posted….

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Final Wisdom Project Report 2

Research Design and Data Analysis

Data Collection and Procedure

This project is a part of the cross-cultural wisdom study co-led by Dr. Michael Ferrari (Univ. of Toronto) and Dr. Monika Ardelt (Univ. of Florida). This multinational project contains both qualitative and quantitative data from 500 participants in the U.S., Canada, Ukraine, China, and Serbia (50 young adults [age 21-30] and 50 older adults [65+] in each country). For this term project, I used American data which has 50 older adults (50% women) and 50 younger adults (50% women). Older adults have a relatively high educational background and were recruited from adult retirement communities, adult education programs within the University of Florida, and among recently retired faculty except in philosophy or religion. Younger adults were recruited among current or former university students, except for current or former students in philosophy or religion.

All participants were recruited through a convenience and snowball sampling, stratified by gender and age. Participants were met for a single session lasting about 2 hours. Using a semi-structured interview guide, participants were first asked about their own lives, most important events and memories that helped them to be the current person, ideal exemplars of wisdom in both their daily lives and history, how wisdom might be attained, and what wisdom means to the respondent. The semi-structured interview was audiotaped and then transcribed verbatim.

After the semi-structured interviews, a standardized survey was conducted. The questionnaire consists of demographic items, general attitudes and behavior (including wisdom characteristics, mastery, and purpose in life), general well-being, satisfaction with life, and fundamental values. For the project, I used 20 American interviews consisted of top 10 wisdom scorers and bottom 10 wisdom scorers measured by 3 Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3D-WS) developed by Dr. Ardelt.

Design and Measurement

This study uses a mixed-method design that seeks to coordinate both qualitative and quantitative measures of wisdom characteristics that the respondents described as of wisdom nominees in their daily life. Structural codes and thematic codes are constructed based on the pre-structured survey questions and in-depth interviews respectively. Structural codes include demographic questions which contain educational attainment (both years and degrees), occupation (previous or current, duration, hobbies or skills, etc.), ethnicity, gender, religion, birth place, marital status, etc., and psychometric assessments of wisdom and quality of life, such as, the Foundational Value Scale (FVS), 3-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3D-WS), NCHS General Well-Being Composite Scales, and Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS).

The FVS (Jason et al, 2001) was developed from a wisdom study where researchers asked participants to name the wisest living person that they know (whether they had met the person or not) and to provide an episode in which this person was wise. They also asked to describe how this person got to be wise and how this person had affected or influenced their life. From the pool of answers, Jason and colleagues (2001) came up with the list of 23 wisdom attributes. This instrument uses a 5-point Likert-type scale (1= not at all, 5=definitely) for the two main theme questions; 1) how much does each attribute [listed below] describe a person who has wisdom (wisdom nominee); 2) how much is each of these attributes true of yourself? I used the wisdom nominee theme for the comparison between top scores and bottom wisdom scores on five subcategories from the list. Harmony, for instance, includes openness, positive self-esteem, gratitude and appreciation, purpose in life, life experiences and underlying unity in life, coping capacity with uncertainty, and good judgment. Warmth contains animation (rapture, joy, hope, and happiness), compassion and warmth for others, humor, being in the present, and kindness including pro-social behaviors and attitude.

Ardelt’s (2003; 2005) 3D-WS identifies 3 distinct factors of wisdom (cognition, affect, reflection) in lay people’s (elderly, more specifically) coping with difficult life circumstances in the midst of transitions and losses. From analyzing the life narratives and stories of elderly people, Ardelt (2005) recognizes that wisdom is not just a product of longevity and intelligence, but an amalgam of life vicissitudes and constant endeavors to generating a solid stance and positive attitudes toward life events by living and learning from it. This instrument also uses 5 point Likert-type scale (1=strongly agree, 5=strongly disagree) on three dimensions (14 items for cognition, 12 for reflection, and 13 for affect) and mean values of each and overall are used. The SWLS is a short, 5-item instrument designed to measure general evaluation of one’s lives (see Pavot and Diener, 1993 for a detailed description of psychometric properties of the scale).

Adapted from Bluck and Gluck (2004), qualitative interview data covers personal life stories, wonder experience, ideal exemplars of wisdom (wisest person in personal life), personal wisdom experiences, historical exemplars of wisdom, and personal wisdom definition. The coding followed the order of the interview questions so as to function as major themes in their cross-cultural or culture specific wisdom study. By doing so, between- and within-themes analyses can be possible. For instance, I apply within-theme approach for this project by focusing on a specific theme (e.g., ideal exemplars of wisdom in person and the reasons why the respondents nominated them as the wisest person that they have known of in person). With better understanding on this theme, I can expand in ease the scope of investigation to, for instance, their life history and wonder experience as well as to their personal definition of wisdom and historical figures they nominated as the wisest.

This usage of between- and within-themes analysis is critical to examine the sequential map of wisdom development by which I can investigate whether there exists a consistency in social network nodes (e.g., kin group vs. nonkin group in both wisdom nominees and wonder experience) and wisdom characteristics throughout the life course and if so, how differently people in this category develop their wisdom definition in comparison to people with increased limitations due to lifelong accumulation of self-absorption, negativity, pursuit of instant gratification, and a lack of continuous, long-term social supports and guidance.

Figure2. Wisdom Development Sequence Map

Data Analysis

MAXQDA 10, Excel, SPSS 13, and UCInet 6 were used in collaborating each other in order to, first, come up with top 10 and bottom 10 wisdom groups; second, compare differences and their significances in variables I am interested; third, draw both wisdom nominee characteristics and personal wisdom definitions according to top 10 and bottom 10 groups; and finally, illustrate and conduct the relational analysis, cluster analysis, correspondence analysis, and centrality comparisons, using coded wisdom characteristics of top 10 and bottom 10 group.

In order to investigate how differently a high score group and a low score group describe the characteristics of wisdom nominees in their daily life and personal definition of wisdom (e.g., a high score group might show consistently that more affective and reflective characteristics are ranked higher in their centrality and frequency, playing a sort of brokerage role with cognitive characteristics, whereas a low wisdom score group could choose more cognitive characteristics than affective and reflective ones as descriptors of wisdom nominees they have known of in person), I came up with top 10 and bottom 10 wisdom scores measured by 3D-WS.

Figure3. Age Cohort Proportion in Wisdom Score

As Figure 3 shows, old participants were obviously taking a major portion in top 10 group (8 older adults vs. 2 younger adults) and its dominancy increases as the range extends to top 30 (28 vs. 12). On the other hand, 7 out of 10 people in the bottom group are younger adults and it goes up to 19 out of 30 bottom group.

Considering the small sample size (20 interviews in total) with normality concern, independency of two comparison groups (top 10 vs. bottom 10), and measurement characteristics (the data represent a rank ordering of observations, which is ordinal instead of interval), I used a nonparametric test methodology. More specifically, Mann-Whitney U Test was conducted for testing the differences (median, instead of mean) between two independent group samples.

UCInet and MAXQDA software was used to come up with two relational graphs of the wisdom characteristics of people from each group. The correspondence analysis (2 mode matrix – actor by codes: transposed) illustrates how the wisdom characteristics are clustered together showing distinct similarities and dissimilarities among the different wisdom score groups. Two network graphs show relational structure of the wisdom characteristics of people in different groups. It shows there are numbers of different sets of items playing out central positions or brokerage roles in relation with other characteristics. With having a visual manuscript of dynamic relations of wisdom characteristics in two extreme wisdom groups, I, lastly, conducted centrality analysis by using UCInet which provides centrality figures in degree, Eigenvector, and betweenness in order to distinguish main players among wisdom characteristics and compare the differences between the top and bottom 10 group.


Participants Characteristics

Table 1 provides detailed comparative mean and median data between top 10 and bottom 10 wisdom scorers and its significant difference in variables, such as, life satisfaction, subjective health, the FVS wisdom scores (harmony, warmth, intelligence, nature, spirit), 3D-WS scores (cognitive, reflective, affective), and socio-demographic factors, such as, education year and a number of children.

A Wilcoxon rank-sum test indicated that top 10 reports higher life satisfaction (M = 6.06, Mdn = 6, s = 0.67, W = 57.5, p = .000) and better subjective health (M = 2.51, Mdn = 2.5, s = 0.39, W = 73.5, p = .015) in significant levels than bottom 10 people (life satisfaction; M = 4.08, Mdn = 4.3, s = 1.02, subjective health; M = 2.00, Mdn = 2, s = 0.44). It indicates that people in higher wisdom score might have positive association with higher life satisfaction and wellbeing in contrast with people with lower wisdom score.

The detailed attributes support this premise in that both harmony (M = 4.7, Mdn = 4.8, s = 0.33, W = 81, p = .075) and warmth (M = 4.51, Mdn = 4.6, s = 0.63, W = 77.5, p = .035) show top 10 has better appreciation on these attributes as more necessary for wisdom development than bottom 10 does. Especially warmth, which includes happiness, hope, joy, compassion and warmth for others, humor, kindness, and being in the present, is relatively stronger indicator of wisdom development for the people in a top 10 wisdom group. They also have significant advantages on all 3D-WS dimensions.

Interestingly, the difference of interview duration seems significantly large between bottom and top 10 groups. Whereas the average minutes of interviews for the top 10 is about 83, it is shorter than 50 minutes for the bottom 10. It might indicate a possible noise and bias from the interview procedure. However, it also can imply that top 10 interviewees had a lot more to say about their life story, wisdom exemplars in history and their life, personal wisdom experience, and personal definition of wisdom.

Wisdom Characteristics

Figure 4 shows the personal definition of wisdom among top 10 and bottom 10. It gives a snapshot of which characteristics are more or less salient than another. For the top 10, learning from experience, experiential knowledge, general knowledge, understanding life and learning from others appear to be more salient than the counterparty in how they defined the wisdom. On the other hand, bottom 10 characteristics can be labeled as personality traits just like I explained in the literature review (i.e., self-determination, self-actualization, self-realization). Knowing how to better your situation, understanding self, more than knowledge, maturity, resiliency, and logical mind are all closely related to self-empowerment focusing more on individuality instead of harmony and warmth.

FiFigure 4. Personal definition of wisdom among top 10 and bottom 10


This distinction becomes more obvious when I compare top 10 characteristics with which bottom 10 doesn’t have. As figure 5 shows, more harmony- and warmth-related traits, such as, perspective-taking, reflection, insights, grateful, open-minded, appreciation and gratitude, humility, tolerance, prosocial behavior, spiritual and religious, harmonious interaction with others, accepting, and most importantly perspective taking are all that top 10 people nominated as their personal definition of wisdom whereas These distinctive features different between top 10 and bottom 10 seem to continue in wisdom nominee characteristics. Figure 6 shows wisdom nominee characteristics reported by two wisdom score groups. For top 10, prosocial behavior, which includes caring, nurturing, helping, and encouraging behaviors, was most frequently mentioned characteristic of whom they nominated as wisest person that they have known of. On the other hand, experiential knowledge and especially advice-giving skills were nominated as wisdom characteristics by bottom 10 people. none of people in bottom 10 recognized.

These distinctive features different between top 10 and bottom 10 seem to continue in wisdom nominee characteristics. Figure 6 shows wisdom nominee characteristics reported by two wisdom score groups. For top 10, prosocial behavior, which includes caring, nurturing, helping, and encouraging behaviors, was most frequently mentioned characteristic of whom they nominated as wisest person that they have known of. On the other hand, experiential knowledge and especially advice-giving skills were nominated as wisdom characteristics by bottom 10 people.

Relational Characteristics

Figure 7 and Figure 8 illustrate how similarity matrix looks like in correspondence diagram and network graphs. These diagrams portray what are the central characteristics that each wisdom group nominated most frequently and, thus, they lead to centrality (a measure of how network structure and position contributes to a node’s importance, Hanneman & Riddle, 2005) comparisons to confirm the different orientation and stance toward wisdom development.

Finally, table 2 confirms what characteristics play major roles in determining personal understanding about wisdom. In bottom 10, decision making ranked a top in degree (how well connected?, a number of nodes adjacent to a given node, Hanneman & Riddle, 2005) (D=.417; Eigenvector=.578; B=.638), followed by knowing how to better your situation (D=.375; E=.646; B=.196), experiential knowledge (D=.333; E=.552; B=.302), and understanding life (D=.208; E=.049; B=.228). The cut-off point for these four top characteristics was 0.2 in degree whereas it was 0.3 in top 10 group. The top 10 group has six top characteristics of which degrees were all higher than 0.3. Among these, learning from experiences was at the top (D=.543; E=.444; B=.377), followed by experiential knowledge (D=.486; E=.471; B=.119), general knowledge (D=.429, E=.432; B=.109), life understanding (D=.429; E=.456; B=.066), perspective-taking (D=.371; E=.397; B=.022), and learning from others (D=.314; E=.316; B=.013).

Taking Betweeness (the extent to which a node lies along the shortest path between every other pair of nodes; a brokerage, Hanneman & Riddle, 2005 and Eigenvector (the extent to which a given node is connected to other well-connected nodes, Hanneman & Riddle, 2005) into consideration, the top 10 has lower score than the bottom 10 in almost all characteristics, indicating that the relationships among all nominated characteristics by top 10 respondents seem condensed with each. Figure 8 supports this interpretation as the majority of characteristics are clustered each other at close proximity except one cluster separated from the aggregated chuck of groups. On the other hand, the relational graph of the bottom 10 looks dispersed and yet key players, such as, decision making, knowing how to better your own situation and experiential knowledge function as bridges for otherwise disjunctive traits.


My vision for the argument of the importance and timeliness of “lay wisdom” study was twofold: First, it was to address why our modern society is still urging us to regard wisdom as an ultimate developmental status that we are supposed to obtain and master? Why do we still have vague conceptualization of wisdom anyway? In order to have a better understanding about this paradoxical world of wisdom, historical context of personal life story, and its relations with wisdom development deserves much timely attention;

Secondly, I envisioned that the increased capacity of self-awareness and human growth, and the reevaluation of wisdom as virtuous attributes for common goods and social justice should gain more attention in our current liquid, ambivalent postmodern society. In this regard, I proposed that the subjective and yet universal meanings and values of wisdom could only be found in personal narratives of life story and experiences.

As a part of the multinational wisdom project, this study sought to illustrate and clarify how and to what extent wisdom characteristics are understood differently between top 10 and bottom 10 wisdom score groups in terms of their wisdom nominees in person and their own version of wisdom definition. The top 10 group is more likely to be satisfactory of their own lives and health conditions than the bottom 10. Among many different types of wisdom attributes, life balance, harmony and warmth are the most distinguishable traits for the top 10 group from the bottom 10 group. The bottom group showed more individuality-oriented attributes as wisdom characteristics, whereas people in the top 10 seemed to appreciate the virtue of learning from experiences and others and perspective takings more than self-centered personality development.

The present study, in conclusion, underscores differences across the two wisdom group settings in wisdom nominee characteristics and personal wisdom definition. My hope for the future studies lies in potential benefits from my holistic approach to the relationship between life story/wonder and wisdom in practice as they are collaborating with each other as principal parts for the development of human virtuous natures. Wonder glues new causal meanings with excitement and curiosity onto once separated, dispersed parts of lived memories and human interactions. Wisdom cements humility, composure, and regulation upon the emotional excitement and concurrence of the experience of wonder. Therefore, its mutuality deserves much more inquiry and investigation.

Lastly, I hope the present study provides enough needs and interests for continuing multidisciplinary efforts to finding the laws of life [the universality of the roots of positive character development] by taking it into cross-cultural sphere and investigating in which circumstances and social relations good human nature develops and maintains throughout the life course and manifests beyond culture.

In this regard, the study of lay wisdom will help us tune in 1) the significant contributions that a new sociological perspective can make cross culturally in addition to a dominant psychological domain in wisdom study; 2) the importance of social relations as a depository of memories and events that can outrun any life stage and specific culture, waiting to be rediscovered and reevaluated; 3) the role of wonder as emotional action and reaction that can lay out a bridge for us to go back to the depository and come out with different perspective on the present world and future life; and 4) the important universal family values and social virtues with regard to having elderly members in both individual and social sphere.



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These distinctive features different between top 10 and bottom 10 seem to continue in wisdom nominee characteristics. Figure 6 shows wisdom nominee characteristics reported by two wisdom score groups. For top 10, prosocial behavior, which includes caring, nurturing, helping, and encouraging behaviors, was most frequently mentioned characteristic of whom they nominated as wisest person that they have known of. On the other hand, experiential knowledge and especially advice-giving skills were nominated as wisdom characteristics by bottom 10 people. Bottom 10     Top 10     Non-parametric t-test (independent samples)
Mean (SD)     Median     Mean (SD)     Median     Mann-Whitney U     Wilcoxon W     Z     Sig. (1-tailed)
Life Satisfaction     4.08 (1.02)     4.3     6.06 (0.67)     6     2.5     57.5     -3.608     0.000
Subjective Health     2.00 (.0.44)     2     2.51 (0.39)     2.5     18.5     73.5     -2.421     0.015
FVS Wisdom
Harmony     4.44 (0.31)     4.5     4.70 (0.33)     4.8     26     81     -1.828     0.075
Warmth     4.10 (0.40)     4.1     4.51 (0.63)     4.6     22.5     77.5     -2.099     0.035
Intelligence     4.23 (0.57)     4.3     4.18 (0.81)     4.2     49.5     104.5     -0.039     0.971
Nature     3.46 (0.47)     3.5     3.63 (0.88)     3.8     40.5     95.5     -0.726     0.481
Spirit     3.05 (1.21)     3     3.60 (1.65)     4     37.5     92.5     -0.966     0.353
Cognitive     3.18 (0.28)     3.14     4.62 (0.33)     4.68     0     55     -3.791     0.000
Reflective     3.30 (0.38)     3.42     4.60 (0.21)     4.58     0     55     -3.785     0.000
Affective     3.02 (0.46     2.96     4.23 (0.24)     4.27     3     58     -3.554     0.000
Education year     17.05 (1.86)     17     19.00 (4.81)     18     36     91     -1.075     0.315
# of Children     0.70 (0.95)     0     2.30 (1.83)     2     22     77     -2.22     0.035
Elderly only (N: 3 vs. 8)
Education year     17.50 (3.28)     17     19.50 (5.29)     19
# of children     2.00 (0)     2     2.88 (1.55)     2.5
Age     67.67 (3.79)     66     70.50 (6.05)     68.5
Interview Duration     48.67 (9.81)     43     82.88 (26.90)     88
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non-parametric tests

Since I am dealing with small number of samples (20 interviews), it is useful to take into account the non-parametric tests (Wolfowitz, 1942) which are also referred to distribution-free tests. These tests have the obvious advantage of not requiring the assumption of normality or the assumption of homogeneity of variance. They compare medians rather than means and, as a result, if the data have one or two outliers, their influence is negated.

Why parametric tests are preferred, in general, for the same number of observations?

–> 1) more likely to lead to the rejection of a false null hypothesis. (i.e., they have more power of explanation)

Table1. The non-parametric analogue for the paired sample t-test and the independent samples t-test.

Parametric Test                                             Non-Parametric analogue

  • one-sample t-test                                           nothing quite comparable (chi-square)
  • Paired sample t-test                                       Wilcoxon T Test
  • Independent samples t-test                          Mann-Whitney U Test
  • Pearson’s correlation                                      Spearman’s correlation

Cases for considering non-parametric tests

  • Normality check -when a variable (s) abnormally distributed?
  • sample size – 100 or more observations (sample is large enough then, we assume that sample distribution is normal even if we are not sure that the distribution of the variable in the population is normal, as long as our sample is large enough). However, if sample size is small, then those tests can be used only if we are sure that the variable is normally distributed, and there is no way to test this assumption if the sample is small).
  • Problems in measurement – most common statistical techniques on the scale such as analysis of variance (and t-tests), regression, etc., assume that the underlying measurements are at least of interval, meaning that equally spaced intervals on the scale can be compared in a meaningful manner (e.g., B minus A is equal to D minus C). However, this assumption is very often not tenable, and the data rather represent a rank ordering of observations (ordinal) rather than precise measurements.
  • parametric and nonparametric methods –> considering these limits, the need is evident for statistical procedures that enable us to process data of “low quality,” from small samples, on variables about which nothing is known (concerning their distribution). Specifically, nonparametric methods were developed to be used in cases when the researcher knows nothing about the parameters of the variable of interest in the population (hence the name nonparametric). –> Nonparametric methods do not rely on the estimation of parameters (such as the mean or the standard deviation) describing the distribution of the variable of interest in the population. Therefore, these methods are also sometimes called parameter-free methods or distribution-free methods.

Brief Overview of Nonparametric Methods

  • Tests of differences between groups (independent samples);
    • two samples that we want to compare concerning their mean value for some variable of interest, use the t-test for independent samples–> nonparametric alternatives for this test are the Wald-Wolfowitz runs tests, the Mann-Whitney U test, and the Kolmogorov-Smirnov two-sample test. If multiple groups for comparison, we would use analysis of variance (see ANOVA/MANOVA; the nonparametric equivalent to this method are the Kruskal-Wallis analysis of ranks and the Median test.)
  • Tests of differences between variables (dependent samples);
  • Tests of relationships between variables

When to Use Which Method

The Wilcoxon matched pairs test assumes that one can rank order the magnitude of differences in matched observations in a meaningful manner.

The Kolmogorov-Smirnov two-sample test is not only sensitive to differences in the location of distribution (for example, differences in means) but is also greatly affected by differences in their shapes.

If this is not the case, rather use the Sign test. In general, if the result of a study is important (e.g., does a very expensive and painful drug therapy help people get better?), then it is always advisiable to run different nonparametric tests; should discrepancies in the results occur contingent upon which test is used, one should try to understand why some tests give different results.

On the other hand, nonparametric statistics are less statistically powerful (sensitive) than their parametric counterparts, and if it si important to detect even small effects, (e.g., is this food additive harmful to people?) one should be very careful in the choice of a test statistic. http://www.statsoft.com/textbook/nonparametric-statistics/

SPSS example ==> http://www.uvm.edu/~dhowell/fundamentals7/SPSSManual/SPSSLongerManual/SPSSChapter12.pdf

Another good source that illustrates the difference between typical nonparametric tests and their parametric “equivalents” ==>

Nonparametric Statisticsã

I shall compare the Wilcoxon rank-sum statistic with the independent samples t-test to illustrate the differences between typical nonparametric tests and their parametric “equivalents.”

Independent Samples t test Wilcoxon Rank-Sum Test
HÆ:  m1 = m2 HÆ:  Population 1 = Population 2
Assumptions: None for general test, but often assume:
Normal populations Equal shapes
Homogeneity of variance Equal dispersions
(but not for separate variances test)

Both tests are appropriate for determining whether or not there is a significant association between a dichotomous variable and a continuous variable with independent samples data.  Note that with the independent samples t test the null hypothesis focuses on the population means.  If you have used the general form of the nonparametric hypothesis (without assuming that the populations have equal shapes and equal dispersions), rejection of that null hypothesis simply means that you are confident that the two populations differ on one or more of location, shape, or dispersion.  If, however, we are willing to assume that the two populations have identical shapes and dispersions, then we can interpret rejection of the nonparametric null hypothesis as indicating that the populations differ in location.  With these equal shapes and dispersions assumptions the nonparametric test is quite similar to the parametric test.  In many ways the nonparametric tests we shall study are little more than parametric tests on rank-transformed data.  The nonparametric tests we shall study are especially sensitive to differences in medians.

If your data indicate that the populations are not normally distributed, then a nonparametric test may be a good alternative, especially if the populations do appear to be of the same non-normal shape.  If, however, the populations are approximately normal but heterogeneous in variance, I would recommend a separate variances t-test over a nonparametric test.  If you cannot assume equal dispersions with the nonparametric test, then you cannot  interpret rejection of the nonparametric null hypothesis as due solely to differences in location.

Conducting the Wilcoxon Rank-Sum Test

Rank the data from lowest to highest.  If you have tied scores, assign all of them the mean of the ranks for which they are tied.  Find the sum of the ranks for each group.  If n1 = n2, then the test statistic, WS, is the smaller of the two sums of ranks.  Go to the table (starts on page 715 of Howell) and obtain the one-tailed (lower tailed) p.  For a two-tailed test (nondirectional hypotheses), double the p.  If n1 ¹ n2, obtain both WS and WS¢ WS is the sum of the ranks for the group with the smaller n,  (see the rightmost column in the table), the sum of the ranks that would have been obtained for the smaller group if we had ranked from high to low rather than low to high.  The test statistic is the smaller of WS and WS¢.  If you have directional hypothesis, to reject the null hypothesis not only must the one-tailed p be less than or equal to the criterion, but also the mean rank for the sample predicted (in H1) to come from the population with the smaller median must be less than the mean rank in the other sample (otherwise the exact p = one minus the p that would have been obtained were the direction correctly predicted).

If you have large sample sizes, you can use the normal approximation procedures explained on pages 675-677 of Howell.  Computer programs generally do use such an approximation, but they may also make a correction for continuity (reducing the absolute value of the numerator by .5) and they may obtain the probability from a t-distribution rather than from a z-distribution.  Please note that the rank-sum statistic is essentially identical to the (better know to psychologists) Mann-Whitney U statistic. but the Wilcoxon is easier to compute.  If someone insists on having U, you can always transform your W to U (see page 678 in Howell).

Here is a summary statement for the problem on page 676 of Howell (I obtained an exact p from SAS rather than using a normal approximation):  A Wilcoxon rank-sum test indicated that babies whose mothers started prenatal care in the first trimester weighed significantly more (N = 8, M = 3259 g, Mdn = 3015 g, s = 692 g) than did those whose mothers started prenatal care in the third trimester (N = 10, M = 2576 g, Mdn = 2769 g, s = 757 g), W = 52, p = .034.

Power of the Wilcoxon Rank Sums Test

You already know  that the majority of statisticians reject the notion that parametric tests require interval data and thus ordinal data need be analyzed with nonparametric methods (Gaito, 1980).  There are more recent simulation studies that also lead one to the conclusion that scale of measurement (interval versus ordinal) should not be considered when choosing between parametric and nonparametric procedures (see the references on page 57 of Nanna & Sawilowsky, 1998).  There are, however, other factors that could lead one to prefer nonparametric analysis with certain types of ordinal data.  Nanna and Sawilowsky (1998) addressed the issue of Likert scale data.  Such data typically violate the normality assumption and often the homogeneity of variance assumption made when conducting traditional parametric analysis.  Although many have demonstrated that the parametric methods are so robust to these violations that this is not usually a serious problem with respect to holding alpha at its stated level (but can be, as you know from reading Bradley’s articles in the Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society), one should also consider the power characteristics of parametric versus nonparametric procedures.

While it is generally agreed that parametric procedures are a little more powerful than nonparametric procedures when the assumptions of the parametric procedures are met, what about the case of data for which those assumptions are not met, for example, the typical Likert scale data?  Nanna and Sawilowsky demonstrated that with typical Likert scale data, the Wilcoxon rank sum test has a considerable power advantage over the parametric t test.  The Wilcoxon procedure had a power advantage with both small and large samples, with the advantage actually increasing with sample size.

Wilcoxon’s Signed-Ranks Test

This test is appropriate for matched pairs data, that is, for testing the significance of the relationship between a dichotomous variable and a continuous variable with related samples.  It does assume that the difference scores are rankable, which is certain if the original data are interval scale.  The parametric equivalent is the correlated t-test, and another nonparametric is the binomial sign test.  To conduct this test you compute a difference score for each pair, rank the absolute values of the difference scores, and then obtain two sums of ranks:  The sum of the ranks of the difference scores which were positive and the sum of the ranks of the difference scores which were negative.  The test statistic, T, is the smaller of these two sums for a nondirectional test (for a directional test it is the sum which you predicted would be smaller).  Difference scores of zero are usually discarded from the analysis (prior to ranking), but it should be recognized that this biases the test against the null hypothesis.  A more conservative procedure would be to rank the zero difference scores and count them as being included in the sum which would otherwise be the smaller sum of ranks.  Refer to the table that starts on page 709 of Howell to get the exact one-tailed (lower-tailed) p, doubling it for a nondirectional test.  Normal approximation procedures are illustrated on page 681 of Howell.  Again, computer software may use a correction for continuity and may use t rather than z.

Here is an example summary statement using the data on page 682 of Howell:  A Wilcoxon signed-ranks test indicated that participants who were injected with glucose had significantly better recall (M = 7.62, Mdn = 8.5, s = 3.69) than did subjects who were injected with saccharine (M = 5.81, Mdn = 6, s = 2.86), T(N = 16) = 14.5, p = .004.

Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA

This test is appropriate to test the significance of the association between a categorical variable (k ³ 2 groups) and a continuous variable when the data are from independent samples.  Although it could be used with 2 groups, the Wilcoxon rank-sum test would usually be used with two groups.  To conduct this test you rank the data from low to high and for each group obtain the sum of ranks.  These sums of ranks are substituted into the formula on page 683 of Howell.  The test statistic is H, and the p is obtained as an upper-tailed area under a chi-square distribution on k-1 degrees of freedom.  Do note that this one-tailed p is appropriately used for a nondirectional test.  If you had a directional test (for example, predicting that Population 1 < Population 2 < Population 3), and the medians were ordered as predicted, you would divide that one-tailed p by k ! before comparing it to the criterion.

The null hypothesis here is:  Population 1 = Population 2 = ……… = Population k.  If you reject that null hypothesis you probably will still want to make “pairwise comparisons,” such as group 1 versus group 2, group 1 versus group 3, group 2 versus group 3, etc.  This topic is addressed in detail in Chapter 12 of Howell.  One may need to be concerned about inflating the “familywise alpha,” the probability of making one or more Type I errors in a family of c comparisons.  If k = 3, one can control this familywise error rate by using Fisher’s procedure (also known as “a protected test”):  Conduct the omnibus test (the Kruskal-Wallis) with the promise not to make any pairwise comparisons unless that omnibus test is significant.  If the omnibus test is not significant, you stop.  If the omnibus test is significant, then you are free to make the three pairwise comparisons with Wilcoxon’s rank-sum test.  If k > 3 Fisher’s procedure does not adequately control the familywise alpha.  One fairly conservative procedure is the Bonferroni procedure.  With this procedure one uses an adjusted criterion of significance, .  This procedure does not require that you first conduct the omnibus test, and should you first conduct the omnibus test, you may make the Bonferroni comparisons whether or not that omnibus test is significant.  Suppose that k = 4 and you wish to make all 6 pairwise comparisons (1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 2-3, 2-4, 3-4) with a maximum familywise alpha of .05.  Your adjusted criterion is .05 divided by 6, .0083.  For each pairwise comparison you obtain an exact p, and if that exact p is less than or equal to the adjusted criterion, you declare that difference to be significant.  Do note that the cost of such a procedure is a great reduction in power (you are trading an increased risk of Type II error for a reduced risk of Type I error).

Here is a summary statement for the problem on page 684 of Howell:  Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA indicated that type of drug significantly affected the number of problems solved, H(2, N = 19) = 10.36, p = .006.  Pairwise comparisons made with Wilcoxon’s rank-sum test revealed that ………  Basic descriptive statistics (means, medians, standard deviations, sample sizes) would be presented in a table.

Friedman’s ANOVA

This test is appropriate to test the significance of the association between a categorical variable (k ³ 2) and a continuous variable with randomized blocks data (related samples).  While Friedman’s test could be employed with k = 2, usually Wilcoxon’s signed-ranks test would be employed if there were only two groups.  Subjects have been matched (blocked) on some variable or variables thought to be correlated with the continuous variable of primary interest.  Within each block the continuous variable scores are ranked.  Within each condition (level of the categorical variable) you sum the ranks and substitute in the formula on page 685 of Howell.  As with the Kruskal-Wallis, obtain p from chi-square on k-1 degrees of freedom, using an upper-tailed p for nondirectional hypotheses, adjusting it with k! for directional hypotheses.  Pairwise comparisons could be accomplished employing Wilcoxon signed-ranks tests, with Fisher’s or Bonferroni’s procedure to guard against inflated familywise alpha.

Friedman’s ANOVA is closely related to Kendall’s coefficient of concordance.  For the example on page 685 of Howell, the Friedman tests asks whether the rankings are the same for the three levels of visual aids.  Kendall’s coefficient of concordance, W,  would measure the extent to which the blocks agree in their rankings.  .

Here is a sample summary statement for the problem on page 685 of Howell:  Friedman’s ANOVA indicated that judgments of the quality of the lectures were significantly affected by the number of visual aids employed, (2, n = 17) = 10.94, p = .004.  Pairwise comparisons with Wilcoxon signed-ranks tests indicated that …………………..  Basic descriptive statistics would be presented in a table.


It is commonly opined that the primary disadvantage of the nonparametric procedures is that they have less power than does the corresponding parametric test.  The reduction in power is not, however, great, and if the assumptions of the parametric test are violated, then the nonparametric test may be more powerful.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Six But Were Afraid to Ask

You may have noticed that the numbers 2, 3, 4, 6, 12, and 24 commonly appear as constants in the formulas for nonparametric test statistics.  This results from the fact that the sum of the integers from 1 to n is equal to n(n + 1) / 2.

Effect Size Estimation

As you know, the American Psychological Association now emphasizes the reporting of effect size estimates.  Since the unit of measure for most criterion variables used in psychological research is arbitrary, standardized effect size estimates, such as Hedges’ g, η2, and w2 are popular.  What is one to use when the analysis has been done with nonparametric methods?  This query is addressed in the document “A Call for Greater Use of Nonparametric Statistics,” pages 13-15.  The authors (Leech & Onwuegbuzie) note that researchers who employ nonparametric analysis generally either do not report effect size estimates or report parametric effect size estimates such as g.  It is, however, known that these effect size estimates are adversely affected by departures from normality and heterogeneity of variances, so they may not be well advised for use with the sort of data which generally motivates a researcher to employ nonparametric analysis.

There are a few nonparametric effect size estimates (see Leech & Onwuegbuzie), but they are not well-known and they are not available in the typical statistical software package.  You can find SAS code for computing two nonparametric effect size estimates in the document “Robust Effect Size Estimates and Meta-Analytic Tests of Homogeneity” (Hogarty & Kromrey, SAS Users Group International Conference, Indianapolis, April, 2000).

Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test

The Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test is a non-parametric analog to the independent samples t-test and can be used when you do not assume that the dependent variable is a normally distributed interval variable (you only assume that the variable is at least ordinal).  You will notice that the SPSS syntax for the Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test is almost identical to that of the independent samples t-test.  We will use the same data file (the hsb2 data file) and the same variables in this example as we did in the independent t-test example above and will not assume that write, our dependent variable, is normally distributed.

npar test
 /m-w = write by female(0 1).

The results suggest that there is a statistically significant difference between the underlying distributions of the write scores of males and the write scores of females (z = -3.329, p = 0.001).


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Wisdom Project Presentation Report 2 – conceptual models and data characteristics

The Conceptual Model: The Effects of Social Relations with Wisdom Nominee on Wisdom Development

Wisdom Development Sequence Map

Design and Data Collection

  • A part of the cross-cultural wisdom project co-led by Dr. Michael Ferrari (Univ. of Toronto) and Dr. Monika Ardelt (Univ. of Florida)
  • Both qualitative and quantitative data from 500 participants in the U.S., Canada, Ukraine, China, and Serbia (50 young  adults [age21-30] and 50 older adults [65+] in each country)

For this Project,

  • 20 interviews with Pre-structured questions (based on 3D-WS developed by Dr. Ardelt) from American data
  • ­10 top scorers vs. 10 bottom scorers (both college educated or in a college

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Wisdom Project Presentation Report 3 – Coding and Analysis


Structural Codes and Thematic Codes

Quantitative Data

  • ­Demographic questionnaire: education attainment, Occupation, Ethnicity, Gender, Religion, Birth place, Marital Status
  • ­Psychometric Assessments of wisdom and quality of life

The Foundational Value Scale (FVS)
3-Dimentional Wisdom Scale (3D-WS)
NCHS General Well-Being Composite Scales
Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS)

Qualitative Interview Data

  • ­Personal life stories
  • ­Ideal exemplars of wisdom (wisest person in personal life)

who is this person? What makes so wise? (why), story (what), how, effects? What do you need to do?­

  • Personal wisdom experiences

what were those times? How were you wise?

  • ­Historical exemplars of wisdom (wisest person in history)

who? Why? What? How?

  • ­Personal wisdom definition


  1. • Different Characteristics of Wisdom b/w groups
  2. • Relationship b/w wisdom nominee and personal definition
  3. • Interplay of life story and wonder with wisdom nominee and personal definition
  4. • Personal experience of wisdom
  5. • Difference b/w wisdom nominee in person and history

1. Different characteristics of wisdom b/w groups (top 10 vs. bottom 10)

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Wisdom Project Presentation Report 1.

This post is based on the original presentation in Test Analysis class taught by Dr. Clarence C. Gravlee in Anthropology at the University of Florida, on Nov 29th Workshop (2010).


Wisdom In life: Searching for the Roots of Positive Human Development Throughout the Life Course

Significant Aims:

To untangle the effects of consistent/inconsistent wisdom characteristics on wisdom development throughout the life course

1) To illustrate relational features of wisdom characteristics found in wisdom nominee and personal wisdom definition

2) To examine laypeople’s perception and attitude on their life story and wonder experience and its relationship with wisdom development

3) To investigate how the social network affects on consistency of wisdom characteristics and development


Importance and Timeliness of Implicit Wisdom Research: Wisdom not for attainment but for realization:

“Philosophy should be a school of thought investigating on revelation of wisdom and not attainment of knowledge” (Spinoza).

“…we can find wisdom not only on the steps of the Parthenon, but also around a family dinner table” (Stephen Hall, 2010, p. 14)

“Wisdom is something that a person has within themselves. You can’t learn wisdom, it’s not something that you know statistics you have a formula that you go by, it’s nothing like that. I think what a person goes through in life, what they…want out of life and what they’re going through right then…all the combination of your past, your present and things that you want to see in the future, combined in one for you to be wise, you have wisdom.” (Interview# 2007)

Literature Review

Wisdom and its Elitism and Divinity:

  1. ­Wisdom as always to be aspired, and yet essentially unattainable –>

Robinson (1990); Immanuel Kant (Adler et al., 1990); Paul Baltes, et al. (2000; 1995); Sternberg and Jordan (2005)

2. Demotion of laypeople’s wisdom –>

Augustine: sapientia  vs. scientia (knowledge of the material world)

­           3. Western approaches (analytic) vs. Eastern approaches (synthetic) –>

Analytic abilities, such as increases in knowledge and understanding and the processing of information vs. Integration, harmony, compassionate concern for others

4. Growth and expansion vs. stability (security) and balance (Zygmunt Bauman in critique on Modernity and Rationality)

Sternberg and Jordan (2005); Takahashi, 2000, 2005; Yang (2001)

Research Questions

  1. ­How is wisdom understood differently among two extreme groups of wisdom scorers (top 10 vs. bottom 10)?
  2. ­What’s the relationship between wisdom nominee and personal wisdom definition?
  3. ­How and to what extent does personal life story and wonder experience interplay with wisdom nomination and personal definition?
  4. ­When do people think they are wise?
  5. ­How is wisdom understood differently in between wisdom nominee in person and in history?
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