Researchers say there is evidence to suggest that level of wisdom is dictated to a large degree by neurobiology, and that distinct regions and systems in the brain govern the identified components of wisdom.(Shutterstock)
Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have developed a new tool to assess an individual’s level of wisdom.
Called the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE), the scale is based upon a conceptualisation of wisdom as a trait with a neurobiological as well as psychosocial basis.
“There is evidence to suggest that the level of wisdom is dictated to a large degree by neurobiology, and that distinct regions and systems in the brain govern the identified components of wisdom,” said Dilip Jeste, director of UC San Diego Centre for Healthy Ageing.
“There are measures now that assess a person’s level of wisdom, but they do not incorporate these emerging neurobiological models of the trait. SD-WISE reflects the latest thinking. We believe it may be a useful tool in clinical practice, in addition to its value in bio-psycho-social research, especially investigations into the neurobiology of wisdom and possible interventions to enhance it,” Jeste added.
For the study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the researchers randomly recruited 524 residents of San Diego county, ages 25 to 104, from an on-going longitudinal investigation called the Successful Ageing Evaluation (SAGE) study, focusing on physical, cognitive, and psychosocial aspects of successful ageing across the adult lifespan.
Participants were administered the SD-WISE along with two existing measures: the 12-item Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale and the 40-item Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale.
“Both scales are well-established and well-respected,” said Michael Thomas, assistant professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
“They have demonstrated reliability and validity as scientific tools and were good measures against which to compare SD-WISE.”
Studies suggest that wisdom may be defined by six specific domains and that these domains are linked to distinct regions of the brain, based upon neuroimaging and other scientific evidence.
For example, the domain of prosocial attitudes and behaviours, such as empathy, altruism and social cooperation, is facilitated by the prefrontal cortex (PFC), located in the front part of the brain and responsible to complex executive functions.
The other domains are social decision-making/pragmatic knowledge of life, emotional regulation, reflection/self-understanding, tolerance of diverse values, and ability to effectively deal with uncertainty and ambiguity in life.
All of these domains are associated with specific brain regions, including different parts of the PFC, the limbic system and amygdala, and specific neurotransmitters, especially monoamines.
The researchers found that SD-WISE successfully measured five of the six targeted domains, and made effective distinctions between individuals’ differing degrees of wisdom. The sixth domain — social decision-making — was partially covered as “social advising”.
The results showed that SD-WISE is a reliable and valid scale, said Jeste. Wisdom, as measured with SD-WISE, correlated with measures of psychological well-being. Importantly, the overall results supported the notion that wisdom is a specific entity with different components.