In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wisdom

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Relevant Brain Research
  • Wisdom Interventions

Psychology Wisdom
Judith Glück
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0061


While wisdom was the central topic of philosophy and a very important topic in the religious sciences for centuries, psychology neglected the topic for a long time. Possible reasons for this blind spot include the complexity of wisdom, which makes it difficult to assess with standardized measures, and a certain negative view of processes associated with aging. Only in the 1980s did wisdom slowly begin to attract the interest of psychological researchers. Soon, empirical wisdom research was somewhat dominated by the Berlin wisdom model, a comprehensive theory and measurement paradigm developed by Paul Baltes and his coworkers (including Jacqui Smith, Ursula Staudinger, and Ute Kunzmann) at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Only since about 2000 has a broader variety of theoretical conceptions and empirical approaches begun to flourish. Currently, wisdom research is a growing field characterized by a multitude of definitions and methods but also an emerging consensus on some central questions. One general pattern is that much earlier research tended to conceptualize wisdom largely as a cognitive construct. For example, the Berlin wisdom model was originally based on research on cognitive expertise, and therefore defined wisdom as expertise in the important matters of human existence. Such conceptions acknowledged the fact that the subject matter of wisdom involved social relations, emotions, moral considerations, and the like, but they assumed essentially that the core of wisdom was an intellectual competency, and noncognitive characteristics could be correlates, predictors, or outcomes but not components of wisdom. More recent models tend to take a different view, conceptualizing noncognitive characteristics such as affect as an inherent part of wisdom. Thus, they view wisdom less as an abstract “body of knowledge” and more as a combination of experience-based knowledge, personality, and attitude. Staudinger, Dörner, and Mickler’s article “Wisdom and Personality” (Staudinger, et al. 2005 under Identity and Personality) suggested that the former approaches refer to “general wisdom,” that is, wisdom about people and the world that is relatively independent of the self, and the latter approaches are about “personal wisdom,” that is, wisdom obtained through reflection and integration of one’s own experiences.

General Overviews

There are a number of overview articles and some edited books that represent the current state of research quite well. Hall 2010 is a book for a general audience that could draw some researchers into wisdom research because it is well written and interesting. It summarizes only part of the current psychological wisdom research, but draws very interesting connections to other psychological fields. Concerning books for psychological researchers, Sternberg 1990 was a milestone at the time that marks the “historical” beginning of serious psychological wisdom research. Although few of the chapter authors of that book are still in the field, it contains many ideas that might still be worth following up. Sternberg and Jordan 2005 is not exactly a successor of that book, but is interesting especially for the contributions from outside psychology. It may be slightly outdated already as regards psychological approaches, because the field has been changing and expanding enormously over the past few years. Ardelt and Oh 2010 and Staudinger and Glück 2011 are both good overviews of the current state of the field, differing somewhat in emphasis because of the different approaches of the authors. Jeste, et al. 2010 reports findings from an expert survey on wisdom in which many of the current wisdom researchers participated.

  • Ardelt, M., and H. Oh. 2010. Wisdom: Definition, assessment, and relation to successful cognitive and emotional aging. In Successful cognitive and emotional aging. Edited by C. A. Depp and D. V. Jeste, 87–113. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

    Overview of current wisdom theories and research, with a focus on the question of whether wisdom is a competency or a personality characteristic. Also gives a broad overview of empirical approaches to measuring wisdom.

  • Hall, S. S. 2010. Wisdom: From philosophy to neuroscience. New York: Knopf.

    Very readable book by a science journalist that draws interesting connections between wisdom psychology and philosophy, other psychological fields, and recent developments in neuroscience.

  • Jeste, D. V., M. Ardelt, D. Blazer, H. C. Kraemer, G. Vaillant, and T. W. Meeks. 2010. Expert consensus on characteristics of wisdom: A Delphi method study. The Gerontologist 50:668–680.

    DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnq022

    Reports findings from an expert survey on the definition of wisdom, focusing on what distinguishes wisdom from intelligence and spirituality.

  • Staudinger, U. M., and J. Glück. 2011. Psychological wisdom research: Commonalities and differences in a growing field. Annual Review of Psychology 62:215–241.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.121208.131659

    Overview article of the current state of wisdom psychology. Discusses the distinction of personal and general wisdom, issues in the measurement and development of wisdom, and relevant fields of application.

  • Sternberg, R. J., ed. 1990. Wisdom: Its nature, origins, and development. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139173704

    The first, classical handbook on the emerging wisdom research of the 1980s. Still worth reading because it contains many interesting and controversial ideas that have not been followed up by empirical research.

  • Sternberg, R. J., and J. Jordan, eds. 2005. A handbook of wisdom: Psychological perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511610486

    A collection of overview chapters that goes beyond the psychology of wisdom in including interesting chapters on philosophical, ethical, and historical approaches to wisdom as well as on “applications.” The psychological chapters do not fully represent the spectrum of psychological research as it presents itself seven years later.

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