5 - The Psychology of Wisdom: Theoretical and Empirical Challenges  pp. 110-136

The Psychology of Wisdom: Theoretical and Empirical Challenges

By Ute Kunzmann and Paul B. Baltes

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The search for human strengths has a long history in philosophical and religious writings. Since antiquity, one guide in this search has been the concept of wisdom (e.g., Assmann, 1994; Hall, 1922; Kekes, 1996; Oelmüller, 1989). At the core of this concept is the notion of a perfect, perhaps utopian, integration of knowledge and character, mind and virtue (e.g., Baltes & Staudinger, 2000; Baltes & Kunzmann, 2003).

Because wisdom can be considered an ideal end point of human development, lifespan psychologists and researchers interested in aging were among the first to consider this concept from a psychological point of view (e.g., Baltes, Dittmann-Kohli, & Dixon, 1984; Baltes & Smith, 1990; Clayton & Birren, 1980; Hall, 1922; Staudinger, 2001; Sternberg, 1990). In the meantime, wisdom has been studied in other fields of psychology as well, including social and personality research (e.g., Staudinger & Baltes, 1996; Wink & Helson, 1997), intelligence research (e.g., Li & Kunzmann, 2004; Sternberg, 1998), language pragmatics (Pennebaker & Stone, 2003; Sowarka, 1989), and motivational psychology (e.g., Baltes & Freund, 2003; Kunzmann & Baltes, 2003a).

Proponents of these different research fields agree on the notion that wisdom is a human resource that as a correlate and consequence is intrinsically involved in many facets of successful development. Furthermore, wisdom applies not only to our lives as individuals but also to societal functioning.

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