This Seven-Question Test Can Determine How Wise You Are, Researchers Say

How highly would Socrates have scored on the test? Image: vangelis aragiannis/

A group of researchers from the University of California, San Diego, have come up with a new scale for quantifying a person’s stash of metaphorical pearls of wisdom, with the whole test taking just one minute to complete. Describing their work in the journal International Psychogeriatrics, the study authors explain that wisdom is comprised of seven different attributes and that each of these can be measured with a single question.

“Wisdom is a personality trait comprising seven components: self-reflection, pro-social behaviors, emotional regulation, acceptance of diverse perspectives, decisiveness, social advising, and spirituality,” they write. Importantly, previous research has indicated that wisdom is strongly associated with mental and emotional wellbeing, and is a major buffer against anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Until now, clinical trials had relied on the 28-item San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE-28) to evaluate these seven facets and determine a person’s level of sagacity. However, the same team that devised this scale have now created an abbreviated version which they say is just as accurate and reliable as their longer iteration of the test.

“Shorter doesn’t mean less valid,” said study author Dr Dilip V. Jeste in a statement. “We selected the right type of questions to get important information that not only contributes to the advancement of science but also supports our previous data that wisdom correlates with health and longevity.”  

To create the abridged scale, the authors recruited 2,093 participants between the ages of 20 and 82 to take part in an online assessment. Respondents were presented with a series of seven statements that had been selected to account for the seven components of wisdom, and had to state how strongly they agreed or disagreed with each declaration.

“Analyses indicated that the 28-item and seven-item SD-WISE are both very highly correlated and produce a nearly identical pattern of correlations with demographic and validity variables,” write the authors, before explaining that some items were stronger indicators of wisdom than others.

The statements “I often don't know what to tell people when they come to me for advice”, “I avoid situations where I know my help will be needed”, and “I tend to postpone making major decisions as long as I can”, were found to be the strongest predictor of overall wisdom. These three assertions account for the character traits of social advising, pro-social behavior, and decisiveness, respectively.

“More modest discrimination parameters were produced for 'I remain calm under pressure', 'I avoid self-reflection', and 'I enjoy being exposed to diverse viewpoints', indicators of emotional regulation, self-reflection, and acceptance of divergent perspectives, respectively,” explain the authors.

The statement “My spiritual belief gives me inner strength”, which indicates spirituality, was found to be the lowest predictor of wisdom.

Analyzing participants’ responses, the researchers noted that women, older individuals, and those with higher levels of “mental well-being, resilience, happiness, and social interaction” tended to be the wisest. Conversely, loneliness was strongly associated with low wisdom scores, highlighting the importance of cultivating wisdom as a protective measure against poor mental health.

Summing up the significance of these findings, Jeste insists that “we need wisdom for surviving and thriving in life. Now, we have a list of questions that take less than a couple of minutes to answer that can be put into clinical practice to try to help individuals.”


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