The lower your social class, the ‘wiser’ you are, suggests new study

The paradox of modern life: Society in general is getting smarter, but still we are very far from truly understanding how to all get along and become closer to each other.

Igor Grossman, who is a psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Canada has asked a very powerful question: “How is it possible that even now we have just as many, and maybe even more, conflicts as before?”

But the truth is – raw intelligence doesn’t really reduce conflict. On the other hand, wisdom does. That kind of wisdom – the ability to take the perspectives of the other people around us into account while we are aiming for finding compromise – comes more naturally for the people who grew up without much money or they were part of the working class, according to the new study that was conducted by Grossman and his team.

“This work represents the cutting edge in wisdom research”

This study was two-part experiment. In the first part, 2145 people from the US took an online survey and they were asked to remember a conflict that happened to them recently.

After considering their problem, they had to answer questions like: “Do you ever consider a third-party perspective?”, “Have you put some thought into the possibility that you might actually be wrong?” and “How hard did you tried to understand the viewpoint of the other person?”.

The participants were assigned “wise reasoning score” and also “social class” score, and in the end the researchers have plotted the two of these against one another. That’s how they have found that the people that has lower social class scores – and therefore have bigger worries about money and less education – scored somewhere near twice as high on the wise reasoning scale in comparison with the participant from the higher social class.

In the second part of the study, 200 people were recruited and they had to take standard IQ test and then to read three letters to the Dear Abby advice column. For example, one of the letters asked about choosing sides in a fight between mutual friends and later each participant was interviewed about how they think the letters will play out in the end. Their responses were scored by a panel of judges which that applied various measures of wise reasoning. So, in the example above, thinking how actually an outsider might see the conflict would earn points that are leaning towards wisdom, whereas relying only on one’s own perspective would not.

People in lower social classes had higher wise-reasoning scores consistently in comparison with those that belong to a higher social class.

Grossman has a nice advice for those who wants to foster wise reasoning in themselves: they should try to use a third-person language when thinking about certain conflicts. In that way, they can mentally address both themselves and the conflict partner by name and this will lead them to see the situation as other would have seen it.


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