Psychological Distancing May Be Key to Wisdom07/21/11
THURSDAY, July 21 (HealthDay News) -- Wisdom is gained by
looking at things from a distance like a "fly on a wall," a new
By adopting this perspective of psychological distance, people
are more likely to reason wisely in their daily lives, researchers
from the University of Michigan found.
"Although humans strive to be wise, they often fail to do so when reasoning about issues that have profound personal implications," study co-author Ethan Kross, a U-M psychologist, said in a university news release.
Previous studies have found that people with a universal
perspective are actually processing information differently than
those with a more self-centered view.
Research has also shown that dialecticism (realizing the world
is in flux and the future is likely to change) and intellectual
humility (recognizing the limits of one's own knowledge) are key
aspects of wise reasoning.
In conducting this latest study, published online in the
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, researchers examined how the use of both of these aspects of wisdom -- dialecticism and intellectual humility -- varied in two different experiments.
Investigators asked 57 college seniors and recent graduates who
were unable to find jobs to choose cards from a deck describing the
U.S. recession and high levels of unemployment, and think about how
the economy would affect them personally. Next, they were assigned
to reason out loud about the topic from either a self-centered or
"We found that participants who adopted a distanced perspective were significantly more likely to recognize the limits of their knowledge and to acknowledge that the future was likely to change," the study's co-author, U-M psychologist doctoral student Igor Grossmann, said in the news release.
In a second study conducted right before the 2008 U.S.
presidential election, the researchers asked 54 politically
polarized people to read summaries of the candidates' positions on
different political issues, and focus on two issues they felt
strongly about. The participants were then asked to reason out loud
from either a self-centered or a distanced perspective about how
those issues would evolve if their preferred candidate lost the
The study found that those who adopted a distanced perspective
were more likely to reason wisely. They also became more
cooperative and less polarized in their political views, with some
even electing to join a bipartisan discussion group.
"It's important to note that these shifts in wise reasoning and behavior occurred in response to relatively simple manipulations," noted Kross. "This suggests that people may not need to go to great lengths to reason wisely in daily life."
The study authors concluded that their findings provide some
insight into wisdom. "They contribute to a clearer understanding of
how distancing promotes wisdom, and enhance knowledge about how
wisdom operates and how it can be cultivated in daily life,"
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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