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A Fast Way to See If You're Wise

4. Do you know what to tell people who come to you for advice?

Key points

  • Wisdom is a modifiable personality trait with seven components that can be measured using Jeste and Thomas' "San Diego Wisdom Scale."
  • The initial wisdom scale didn't include spirituality, but Jeste and Thomas recently added "spiritual beliefs" as one of seven subscales.
  • The original Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index was a 28-item survey. Now, they've abbreviated this down to a seven-item list called the SD-WISE-7.
Kevin Phillips/Pixabay
Source: Kevin Phillips/Pixabay

Wisdom is a complex personality trait with a variety of components. Dilip Jeste of the University of California, San Diego and Michael Thomas of Colorado State University posit that wisdom is a potentially modifiable trait with seven primary components: acceptance of diverse perspectives, decisiveness, emotional regulation, prosocial behaviors, self-reflection, social advising, and (to a lesser degree) spirituality.

Is Spirituality a Reliable Marker of Wisdom?

When this duo first created their San Diego Wisdom Scale a few years ago (2017), the Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index (JTWI) didn't include spirituality. However, because there are time-tested reasons to believe that spirituality is a component of wisdom, last year (Jeste et al., 2020), they added a subscale for measuring spirituality to create a 28-item wisdom index called SD-WISE-28.

For their spirituality subscale, the authors use secular markers that aren't rooted in religion to index varying degrees of spirituality. For example, the SD-WISE-28 measures things like feeling that we're all connected on a higher level, believing that the soul exists after death, or drawing strength from spiritual beliefs.

Historically, there's been some heated debate about whether or not spirituality is a marker of wisdom. Despite countering opinions, Jeste and Williams ultimately decided to include spirituality as a subscale in their wisdom index. As Jeste explains in an October 2020 news release, "Our findings show that spirituality is significantly associated with better mental health and well-being and may add to an individual's overall wisdom."

"All of the components included in our self-report-based measure correlated with the overall wisdom score, but to varying degrees," Thomas added. "The overall wisdom score had a much stronger association with prosocial behaviors than with spirituality. But still, spirituality was a significant indicator of wisdom."

The 28-item San Diego Wisdom Scale prompts respondents to rate whether they strongly agree or strongly disagree—or if they're somewhere in the middle (agree, neutral, disagree)—in response to four questions under each of the seven subscales.

For example, under the "Acceptance of Divergent Perspectives" subscale, the four prompts are: (1) "I enjoy learning about other cultures." (2) "I am okay with others having morals and values other than my own." (3) "I generally learn something from every person I meet." and (4) "I enjoy being exposed to diverse viewpoints."

How would you respond to these four prompts on a Likert Scale with five options ranging from strongly agree to disagree strongly? You can visit the UC San Diego Health Sciences website if you'd like to rate yourself on the Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index or participate (anonymously) in this research.

Wisdom Indexing Can Be Boiled Down to Seven Questions

Because brief rating scales are faster and necessary for large population-based studies, the researchers recently created an abbreviated San Diego Wisdom Scale called the SD-WISE-7 that distills the original 28 prompts down to seven. This abbreviated version is featured in a recent paper (Thomas et al., 2021) published on December 3 in the peer-reviewed journal International Psychogeriatrics.

"Wisdom measures are increasingly being used to study factors that impact mental health and optimal aging. We wanted to test if a list of only seven items could provide valuable information to test wisdom," senior author Jeste explained in a December 2021 news release.

For this abbreviated wisdom scale, Jeste and Thomas, along with their coauthors and colleagues, chose one pivotal question (out of four prompts) from each of wisdom's seven subscale categories.

The Seven-Item Wisdom Scale Prompts (Subscale in Parenthesis)

  1. "I tend to postpone making major decisions as long as I can." (Decisiveness)
  2. "I avoid self-reflection." (Self-Reflection)
  3. "I avoid situations where I know my help will be needed." (Prosocial Behaviors)
  4. "I often don't know what to tell people when they come to me for advice." (Social Advising)
  5. "I remain calm under pressure." (Emotional Regulation)
  6. "I enjoy being exposed to diverse viewpoints." (Acceptance of Divergent Perspectives)
  7. "My spiritual belief gives me inner strength." (Spirituality)

To assess whether this shortened version of the SD-WISE-28 works, the researchers surveyed 2,093 participants between ages 20 to 82 (average age 46) via the online crowdsourcing platform Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Statistical analysis of the data showed that the shortened SD-WISE-7 version was a "comparable and reliable" way to evaluate wisdom and effectively "balances reliability and brevity for research applications."

"Item statistics suggested that all seven items were strong indicators of wisdom, although the association was weakest for spirituality," the authors write in the paper's abstract. "Analyses indicated that the 28-item and 7-item SD-WISE are both very highly correlated (r = 0.92) and produce a nearly identical pattern of correlations with demographic and validity variables."

"There are evidence-based interventions to increase levels of specific components of wisdom, which would help reduce loneliness and promote overall well-being," Jeste concluded. "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."

LinkedIn image: Oleksii Didok/Shutterstock. Facebook image: garetsworkshop/Shutterstock


Michael L. Thomas, Barton W. Palmer, Ellen E. Lee, Jinyuan Liu, Rebecca Daly, Xin M. Tu, Dilip V. Jeste. "Abbreviated San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE-7) and Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index (JTWI)." International Psychogeriatrics (First published: December 03, 2021) DOI: 10.1017/S1041610221002684

Dilip V. Jeste, Michael L. Thomas, Jinyuan Liu, Rebecca E. Daly, Xin M. Tu, Emily B. H. Treichler, Barton W. Palmer, Ellen E. Lee. "Is Spirituality a Component of Wisdom? Study of 1,786 Adults Using Expanded San Diego Wisdom Scale (Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index)." Journal of Psychiatric Research (First available online: September 30, 2020) DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2020.09.033

Michael L. Thomas, Katherine J. Bangen, Barton W. Palmer, Averria Sirkin Martin, Julie A. Avanzino, Colin A. Depp, Danielle Glorioso, Rebecca E. Daly, Dilip V.Jeste. "A New Scale for Assessing Wisdom Based on Common Domains and a Neurobiological Model: The San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE)." Journal of Psychiatric Research (First available online: September 08, 2017) DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.09.005