A Study Claims To Have Devised A New "Wisdom Test"


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


This is the wisest picture I could find. Esin Deniz/Shutterstock

Researchers claim to have devised a new “wisdom test” that, yes, can measure how much wisdom you have. Really? Uh huh, we're going there.

Led by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), the study was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. They looked at wisdom as a “neurobiological” trait to come up with a new test, rather than just a psychosocial one – meaning looking at psychological and social aspects of wisdom.


In the study, 524 adults aged 25 to 104 took part. The test is called SD-WISE, or the San Diego Wisdom Scale. Participants were tested based on their physical, cognitive, and psychosocial aspects.

What is wisdom, you might be asking? Ah! Good question. Well, no one really knows. But in their paper, the authors outline six components. They are (deep breath): general knowledge of life and social decision making, emotional regulation, pro-social behaviors, insight, value relativism, and decisiveness.

Apparently these components can be linked to particular regions of the brain. Giving participants a set of statements that they had to agree or disagree with on a scale of 1 to 5, the team were able to then measure five of the six components using SD-WISE. This, they say, could mean that wisdom could be measured – or even increased – in the future.

“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 the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging, in a statement.


Now, I don’t want to go about poo-pooing the research of others who are no doubt a lot smarter than myself, but I can’t help but feel this study is a little odd, mostly because they’re trying to measure something that is pretty difficult to define. To check I wasn’t going crazy, I asked a couple of my neuroscientist friends. Both were a little unsure about the findings, and how wisdom related to IQ.

Responding to my concerns, Jeste said the six domains had been localized to specific regions of the brain, as described in a peer-reviewed journal – as had studies explaining the definition as describer earlier.

"[The SD-WISE scale] does not require a study of the brain," he said. "Wisdom is not the same as IQ. IQ does not measure most of the domains."


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