Wisdom — the ability to take the perspectives of others into account and aim for compromise — comes much more naturally to those who grow up poor or working class, according to a new study by social psychologist Igor Grossman at the University of Waterloo in Canada and his colleagues. Science Magazine reports: To conduct the study, Grossmann and his graduate student Justin Brienza embarked on a two-part experiment. First, they asked 2145 people throughout the United States to take an online survey. Participants were asked to remember a recent conflict they had with someone, such as an argument with a spouse or a fight with a friend. They then answered 20 questions applicable to that or any conflict, including: “Did you ever consider a third-party perspective?” “How much did you try to understand the other person’s viewpoint?” and “Did you consider that you might be wrong?” Grossmann and Brienza crunched the data and assigned the participants both a “wise reasoning” score based on the conflict answers and a “social class” score, then plotted the two scores against one another. They found that people with the lowest social class scores — those with less income, less education, and more worries about money — scored about twice as high on the wise reasoning scale as those in the highest social class. The income and education levels ranged from working class to upper middle class; neither the very wealthy nor the very poor were well represented in the study.
In the second part of the experiment, the duo recruited 200 people in and around Ann Arbor, Michigan, to take a standard IQ test and read three letters to the Dear Abby advice column. One letter, for example, asked about choosing sides in an argument between mutual friends. Each participant then discussed with an interviewer how they thought the situations outlined in the letters would play out. A panel of judges scored their responses according to various measures of wise reasoning. In the example above, thinking about how an outsider might view the conflict would earn points toward wisdom, whereas relying only on one’s own perspective would not. As with the first part of the experiment, those in lower social classes consistently had higher wise-reasoning scores than those in higher social classes, the researchers reported today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. IQ scores, however, weren’t associated one way or another with wise reasoning.
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