An Exploration of Wisdom in Mid- to Older-Aged Adults: An Australian Context

Mitchell, Leander (2016). An Exploration of Wisdom in Mid- to Older-Aged Adults: An Australian Context PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2016.1140

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Author Mitchell, Leander
Thesis Title An Exploration of Wisdom in Mid- to Older-Aged Adults: An Australian Context
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2016.1140
Publication date 2016-11-04
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Nancy A. Pachana
Bernadette Watson
Total pages 232
Total black and white pages 232
Language eng
Subjects 1701 Psychology
Formatted abstract
Wisdom is considered a multifaceted construct that has proven difficult to define, and within
the psychological literature, wisdom has only been the focus of scientific study for the past 40
years, despite its long history within philosophy and society more generally. Research to date has
focused on three core areas of study: defining wisdom; measuring wisdom; and developing wisdom.
In this thesis, the focus is on the former two areas of study.

The trend to date in terms of defining wisdom has been to delineate between Western and
Eastern conceptualisations of wisdom in order to distinguish between the ways in which those two
broad groups of people define wisdom. A further, more recent, development in the literature has
been to begin explorations as to the potential for a culturally inclusive conceptualisation of wisdom.

In terms of its assessment, theorists have measured wisdom in a variety of ways, with the
two main methodologies being via performance-based measures (primarily achieved via the use of
vignettes) and self-report measures. While each have proven reliability and validity, the former
tends to require lengthy procedures and training, while the latter is plagued by concerns around how
well an individual can rate their own ‘level’ of wisdom (Staudinger & Glück, 2011).

The present research explored the construct of wisdom utilising Australian adult participants
aged 50 years and over. Offering an interesting mix of cultures, Australia’s multicultural population
was seen as presenting the potential to build on the conceptualisation of wisdom research to date
beyond the broad delineations of Western versus Eastern cultures. A further aim was to investigate
a new measure of wisdom, drawing on the empirical literature to date as to what might make for a
‘good’ wisdom measure.

Study 1 was a quantitative study looking at what Australians identify as the key defining
qualities of a wise person. Using the Self-Construal Scale (Singelis, 1994) to distinguish between
those identifying with an independent versus an interdependent value system, it was hypothesised
that the former group would more closely match with Western definitions of wisdom, while the
latter would more closely match with Eastern definitions. The results showed that regardless of selfidentified
cultural background, participants rating highly in terms of an independent self-construal
were more likely to rate wisdom descriptors associated with knowledge and intelligence highly.
Those rating highly in terms of an interdependent self-construal tended to rate affective descriptors
of wisdom more highly. In each case, these findings were consistent with research to date focusing
on Western- and Eastern-based definitions of wisdom, respectively.

Study 2 was a qualitative study that asked participants, in an open-ended way, to describe a
wise person. The data was then matched to the work of Bangen, Meeks, and Jeste (2013) in order to
see how well the responses of the participants aligned with the subcomponents of wisdom derived
from their review of the literature. It was hypothesised that while there would be alignment, there
would also be some characteristics that would not fit in with the proffered subcomponents. The
results showed that while the greater proportion of the identified text matched the subcomponents,
30% did not and therefore required recoding. Categories such as temperance, integrity, and
perspicacity were among the newly identified subcomponents.

Study 3 was a feasibility study, exploring the robustness of a new measure of wisdom, the
Vignette Wisdom Scale (VWS; Knight et al., 2016). Four iterations of the VWS were piloted and it
was hypothesised that the new measure would correlate with the Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale
(SAWS; Webster, 2007) to at least a moderate degree, in keeping with previous literature in this
area. Internal consistency results were mixed in terms of the four iterations, with the best
performance from the iteration asking participants to reflect on what they would do in the given
scenario. Correlations with the SAWS were mostly lacking, although there is research to suggest
that such results are not necessarily surprising given the two measures focus on different
conceptualisations of wisdom (e.g., Glück et al., 2013).

These studies, taken as a whole, demonstrated that there is still much to discover with
regards to the concept of wisdom. There was support for already available research regarding the
conceptualisation of wisdom, however, there was also evidence of the need to expand current
thoughts on what might make up the core elements of wisdom and the influence of self-construed
value systems. In addition, further research with larger samples would help to establish the utility of
the VWS more broadly, which showed promise as a new measure of wisdom. This research has
implications for the way in which wisdom is conceptualised and measured, which in turn plays a
role in how the development of wisdom might be encouraged. This is seen as an important pathway
given the contribution wisdom can make towards sense of well-being, a link already well
established in the literature.
Keyword wisdom
older adults
cultural inclusivity

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Created: Thu, 03 Nov 2016, 20:36:55 EST by Dr Leander Mitchell on behalf of Learning and Research Services (UQ Library)