Can wisdom be developed?

Can wisdom be developed? This question is both easy and difficult to answer. Wisdom research is still in its infancy, even though substantially increasing at a rapid pace. There are clear signs that wisdom development is possible from a science perspective but much more research is needed to find out best practice. At the same time it is important to ponder that wisdom is a very complex and broad concept, have different interpretations, is difficult to measure, and is context based. Thus, it is not an easy field to investigate.

On the other hand is wisdom development a cornerstone within popular psychology and help yourself books. These books are not mainly to increase knowledge, but to change behavior, make better decisions and improve character. Even though this mega-genre is generally ego-focused it shows the belief that it is possible to augment inner abilities and skills. How much of these results are due to indoctrination or true wisdom is an interesting question. 

Another field, related to wisdom development, is study-circles and folkbildung, where the Nordic countries have been role models since mid-1800´s to mid 1900´s. This movement is well described in the book The Nordic Secret (2017) written by Lene Rachel Andersen. Through education, dialogue, reflection, and training, people reached a higher level of wisdom.

A fourth perspective is wisdom development gained from living life. Research shows that wisdom increases during life with a general peak late middle age. What this tells us is that dialogues, education, work, experiences, reflection, feelings and many other things we process during life, augment wisdom. 

Before going deeper into the subject it may be relevant to distinguish between wisdom and acting wise. The latter may be achieved by normative education (books, videos, lecturing, family teaching, etcetera) where people learn how to behave in certain situations, but do not necessarily become wise. In contrary, wisdom requires a whole range of inner abilities, skills, experience and knowledge to be able to act wisely in any situation. It means that wisdom arise mainly through insights. Thus, when Wisdom4future talks about wisdom we always means wisdom based on insights.

Robert Sternberg, the forerunner of wisdom research, says "wisdom is the most important and yet most neglected aspect of education today". His model WICS (wisdom, intelligence, and creativity, synthesized) focuses "active and engaged citizenship and especially leadership require individuals to have (1) a creative vision for how they intend to make the world a better place, not just for themselves, but also for their family, friends, colleagues, and others; (2) the analytical intellectual skills to be able to explain why their vision, and that of others, is a good one; (3) the practical intellectual skills to be able to execute their vision and persuade others of its value; and (4) the wisdom to ensure that their ideas represent a common good" 

WICS can be applied to an endless number of subjects. Sternberg says "we assess analytical responses on the basis of the extent to which they are analytically sound, balanced, logical, and organized. We assess creative responses on the basis of how original and compelling they are, as well as on the basis of their appropriateness to the task presented. We assess practical responses on the basis of how feasible they are with respect to time, place, and human and material resources. We assess wisdom-based responses on the extent to which they promote the common good by balancing individual interests with others' larger interests, over the long and short terms, through the infusion of positive (prosocial) values."

Sternberg is questioning pure intelligence and knowledge when he writes "We have seen in failed leaders the enormous costs of having leaders who are knowledgeable and intelligent-who have "good degrees" from prestigious schools-yet who are unwise. They tend to commit several serious cognitive fallacies. They are (1) unrealistically optimistic, believing that anything they do will turn out well because they are so brilliant; (2) egocentric, believing that the world revolves around them; (3) falsely omniscient, failing to learn from experience because they believe they know everything; (4) falsely omnipotent, believing that they are all-powerful by virtue of their superior skills or education; (5) falsely invulnerable, believing they can get away with almost anything because they are so clever; and (6) ethically disengaged, believing that ethical principles apply only to lesser mortals. In my view, much of what is wrong in the world today stems from people who are simultaneously smart and foolish." Thus, there is good evidence to believe that everyone, independent of intelligence and education, can augment their wisdom. 

Monica Ardelt, one of the leading lights in Wisdom research and the pioneer of the 3-dimensional wisdom scale theory,  discusses the complex nature of 'becoming wiser'. Her study shows that through reflection, self-examination and a willingness to learn from experiences, individuals can quiet the ego and move towards self-transcendence. This manifests itself in a concern for the well-being of all and an altruistic, all-encompassing love, central to wisdom.

Conscious personality development can take place in many different ways. Wisdom4future want to inspire diversity, to make personality development more interesting, fun, more engaging and probably more effective. An important part of the process is dialogue and reflection according to certain basic principles (David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garrett). Other important parts are the inner skills that should be trained and the organization of adult wisdom development.

Below are some possible activities that are followed by dialogue and reflection:

  • a group of people watching a video about a global challenge, a societal problem, a human need, a value, etcetera
  • a group of people play role-playing games that are about empathy, values, virtues, leadership, conflict management, etcetera, which can be inspired by a video, an actual event or a newspaper article
  • a group of people gather to hear a lecture on, for example, conflict management
  • a group of people read poetry, poetry and books and relate these to contemporary society
  • a group develops one or more visions for the future
  • a group watches a video about multiple global challenges and societal issues
  • a group practices understanding historical causal chains
  • a group learns to practice a work step in a practical profession
  • a group goes out into nature with a nature guide to show how ecological systems work
  • a group visits a slaughterhouse, an industry or a landfill
  • a group tests to use their intuition
  • a group practices different techniques for creativity and problem solving
  • a group of people gather information on a topic on the internet to learn how to do source criticism
  • a group practices writing a submission, making a podcast, writing slogans, or doing an interview, on a relevant topic
  • a group uses art to talk and reflect on emotions, human needs and virtues
  • a group embarks on a survival adventure over a weekend

Below is a description of the parts that can be included in wisdom development. These skills should be practiced in all types of public education activities, as well as in wisdom development in society.

Holistic view

In each situation, see the whole, for example of our / others' actions, societal problems and global challenges, systems, technologies, etcetera. It involves training in:

  • integrate fragmented knowledge into a larger whole
  • understand how I, others, groups, society, nature and systems interact
  • understand how changes in fragments can change the whole
  • understand subjectivity
  • understand context
  • understand history

Values, human needs, emotions

Understand how values, virtues, emotions and human needs affect our decisions, thoughts, words and actions. It involves training in:

  • understand the importance of different social values, virtues and human needs
  • understand the long-term consequences of different social values, virtues and human needs
  • understand social values, virtues and human needs in different contexts
  • understand how social values, virtues and human needs work in practice
  • practice a conscious use of social values, virtues and human needs


Lead themselves and others. It involves training in:

  • understand oneself, others, organizations and society
  • understand human motivation
  • understand different ways to decide
  • understand body, soul and mind
  • create internal and external stability
  • understand and implement different types of coaching
  • understand the effects of uncertainty

Critical analytical ability

Be able to critically analyze everything we hear and see, and be able to see things from different perspectives. It involves training in:

  • recognize problems
  • understand the meaning of facts
  • gather and organize relevant information
  • acknowledge misunderstood assumptions and values
  • understand and use language with accuracy, clarity and discernment
  • interpret data, evaluate evidence and evaluate arguments
  • acknowledge the existence of logical relations between proposals
  • draw sufficiently reasoned conclusions and make relevant generalizations
  • test the conclusions and generalizations that arise
  • reconstruct their belief patterns on the basis of new broader experience / knowledge
  • make correct assessments about specific things and characteristics in everyday life

Creativity and problem-solving ability

Be more creative and be able to solve problems. It involves training in:

  • find hidden patterns
  • connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena
  • generate new ideas
  • find relevant facts
  • use intuition and emotion
  • be non-judgmental
  • understand logical barriers
  • question


Become empathetic, that is, get to know what it is like to be in other people's situation. It involves training in:

  • know the feelings of other people and animals
  • understand how other people's feelings affect their behavior
  • understand how my behavior affects other people
  • understand how other people's behaviors affect other people

Theoretical knowledge

Understand everything related to a sustainable society and much more. It involves training in:

  • understand relevant theoretical knowledge
  • understand theoretical knowledge in practical terms
  • understand how to develop theoretical knowledge
  • understand the history behind theoretical knowledge
  • understand the consequences of theoretical knowledge

Practical skills

Become more practical, for example in cultivation, nature conservation, crafts, technology, etc. This means training in:

  • understand practical skills
  • practice relevant practical skills
  • understand the implications of practical skills
  • understand how to develop practical skills

Conflict resolution

Increase the ability to resolve conflicts. It involves training in:

  • understand the causes of the conflict
  • listen actively
  • understand how the other sees the conflict based on their beliefs, perspectives and attitudes
  • understand the other person's feelings
  • understand how the other person experiences my behavior
  • understand and use different conflict resolution techniques


Ardelt, Self-Development Through Selflessness: The Paradoxical Process of Growing Wiser (2008)

Grossmann, The Science of Wisdom in a Polarized World: Knowns and Unknowns (2020)

Glück, New Developments in Psychological Wisdom Research: A Growing Field of Increasing Importance (2018)

Jeste and Lee, Emerging Empirical Science of Wisdom: Definition, Measurement, Neurobiology, Longevity, and Interventions (2019)

Sternberg, Assessing what matters (2007),

Sternberg, What Is Wisdom and How Can We Develop It? (2004) 

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