EBW Wisdom Profile Series: Ursula M. Staudinger

On Wisdom, Personality Adjustment and Growth

Ursula M. Staudinger is Founding Director of The Columbia Aging Centre and a lifespan psychologist. As well as having developed the much-celebrated Berlin Wisdom Paradigm with Paul Baltes in the 1980s, she has more recently developed the Bremen Measure of Personal Wisdom.

Following her presentation at the Center for Practical Wisdom Research Forum 2017 in Chicago, she spoke with evidencebasedwisdom about her most recent work on the critical relationship between wisdom, personality adjustment and growth. She also discussed her distinction between general wisdom and personal wisdom, her research regarding the wisdom of interactive minds, and why stable societies reserve wisdom for the few.

Audio excerpts from this conversation can be heard in the EBW Podcast: Wisdom Reloaded.

Question index:

Do you have a definition of wisdom that you find the most helpful in your work?

You spoke today in your talk about the difference between personal wisdom and general wisdom. That’s probably a distinction that members of the public might be unfamiliar with. Can you tell us a little bit about that distinction?

You have through your work identified a number of procedures or interventions that actually increase wisdom-related performance. Would you be able to tell us a little about some of those?

It was interesting what you were saying today in your talk about the expectation that as we get older, you would expect that wisdom would come with age, but in fact sometimes there’s a narrowing of perspectives with increasing age. With self-knowledge we can become more certain about what we like or don’t like, and so we can tend towards being less open. Is there anything that can be done on a societal level to counteract this effect?

So the assumption that older people would of course be wiser leads to the assumption that they would automatically be able to handle novel situations. In fact, you’re saying that older people still need skills training if they’re going to be successful at something they take on later? You spoke today about two different types of response to life’s challenges – ‘adjustment’ and ‘growth.’ You were describing how the interaction between them perhaps gives us the most likely hope of moving in the direction of wisdom. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

It’s an interesting contradiction to the kitchen-sink wisdom of ‘put a brave face on it – look at the silver lining.’ If we were to look at applying this research, how could you change society in a way that would perhaps nudge people away from always reaching for adjustment, and perhaps embracing the growth mentality more? Is there a way of turning that idea into something practical?

Does that mean it’s [wisdom] unstable?

The concept of wisdom has been around for millennia. The first empirical work on wisdom was your work on the development of the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm in the mid-eighties. Why is this renewed interest in wisdom happening now? Why not a hundreds years ago? Five hundred years ago? Is there something about the make-up of society today that is leading people to turn to wisdom, and perhaps engage with it more scientifically?

Click here to read the interview and her responses on Evidencebasedwisdom.com

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