Wisdom Means Different Things To Men And Women
A wise woman is not the same thing as a wise man, according to new research.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | March 3, 2022
A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology charts out why men and women exhibit different levels and types of wisdom.
"Wisdom has been shown to be related to better mental health and perhaps greater longevity," say the authors of the research, led by Emily Treichler and Dilip Jeste of the University of California San Diego. "Wise people tend to experience higher well-being, more life satisfaction, more optimism, and are better able to handle losses and other situations of adversity."
According to the authors, wisdom can be broken down into the following eight components:
- Empathy and compassion (i.e., understanding and helping others)
- Control over one's own emotions
- Self-reflection (i.e., understanding and trying to improve one's own behavior)
- Accepting uncertainty
- Accepting a diversity of perspectives
- Advising others who seek guidance
- And, spirituality (i.e., a feeling of constant connectedness to an entity that is not seen or heard)
To investigate how men and women differ on the components of wisdom, the researchers recruited over 650 people and asked them to complete two common measures of wisdom: the San Diego Wisdom Scale and the 3-Dimensional Wisdom Scale.
"We expected that women would score higher on compassion and other pro-social components of wisdom, as other studies have found," said the authors. "Similarly, we also predicted that men would score higher on decisiveness, as some other studies have reported. We did find those differences we hypothesized."
However, there were a few surprises. For one, the researchers reported greater self-reflection in women and greater emotion regulation in men.
"We might think of wisdom overall as androgynous (i.e., not belonging to a specific gender group), but that women and men have some differences on the subdomains of wisdom," state the authors.
The authors suggest that socio-cultural factors may contribute to the observed gender differences in wisdom. For example, in most if not all societies, women and men are treated differently from infancy which impacts what they believe wisdom is and how they describe a "wise woman" versus a "wise man." This may influence the development of wisdom in both genders, intentionally and unintentionally.
Additionally, biological factors may also contribute to gender differences in wisdom — for example, hormone differences may explain why women score higher on the compassionate dimension of wisdom.
To enhance one's own wisdom, the authors offer the following advice:
- Seek to understand perspectives of others with different backgrounds and different viewpoints from your own
- Develop compassion by helping others in your community and participating in causes that serve a larger good
- Practice effective decision-making by slowing that process down and considering all evidence
The authors expect research on wisdom to branch out in several directions, including understanding more about the longitudinal trajectory of wisdom and its development over the lifespan, understanding wisdom from a non-binary gender lens, and identifying and implementing wisdom interventions to improve well-being for a range of groups.
"Overall, we hope that wisdom research is used to improve the quality of life for people of all ages and backgrounds," conclude the authors.
A full interview with Emily Treichler and Dilip Jeste discussing their new research on wisdom can be found here: How does gender influence wisdom?