Do Friends Make Us Wiser? Situations Seem to Affect Wise Reasoning

Although we may think of some people as always being wise and having timely insights on most things, new research finds that we actually have different levels of wisdom from one situation to the next.

Interestingly, a person’s perceived wisdom is also affected by whether we are alone or with friends.

Researchers defined wisdom — or as they call it, “wise reasoning” — as a combination of abilities such as intellectual humility, consideration of others’ perspective, and looking for compromise.

“This research does not dismiss that there is a personality component to wisdom, but that’s not the whole picture,” said University of Waterloo’s Dr. Igor Grossmann, lead author of the paper. “Situations in daily life affect our personality and ability to reason wisely.”

The observation that wise reasoning varies dramatically across situations in daily life suggests that while it fluctuates, wisdom may not be as rare as we think. Further, for different individuals, only certain situations may promote this quality.

The researchers observed substantial and systematic variability in wise reasoning, with wiser reasoning occurring in social contexts, with friends. The study also found a significant correlation between wisdom and having more positive emotions, greater emotional complexity, keep a more open mind, engaging in less suppression of thoughts, and being able to more easily forgive others.

“There are many examples where people known for their critical acumen or expertise in ethics seem to fall prey to lack of such acumen or morals. The present findings suggest that those examples are not an anomaly,” said Grossmann.

“We cannot always be at the top of our game in terms of wisdom-related tendencies, and it can be dangerous to generalize based on whether people show wisdom in their personal life or when teaching others in the classroom.”

Researchers plan to continue examining conditions and situations under which people may or may not show wisdom in their lives. By doing this, investigators and practitioners may learn more about situations promoting wisdom in daily life and recreating those situations.

For the next stage of this work, Grossmann and his team are preparing a tool to assess wisdom according to the situation.

They have plans to conduct the first-ever longitudinal study aiming at teaching people to reason wisely in their own lives.

The study appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Source: University of Waterloo