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May 13, 2020

Toward a Multidimensional Perspective on Wisdom and Health—An Analogy With Depression Intervention and Neurobiological Research

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 2Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(9):895-896. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.0642

The article by Lee and colleagues1 in this issue of JAMA Psychiatry explores 3 domains or components of wisdom: prosocial relations, emotional regulation, and spirituality. The authors’ basic hypothesis is that interventions may enhance these domains of wisdom (although they found no eligible studies that addressed wisdom as an inclusive or unitary construct). Interventions ranged widely, from mindfulness to emotional intelligence training. The literature contains many approaches to measuring wisdom as reviewed by the authors.1 One helpful distinction is between theoretical wisdom (understanding the deep nature of reality and humans’ place in it) and practical wisdom (also known as phronesis: making good decisions or doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons), as delineated by Jeste and colleagues in a previous article.2 Both can be measured, yet practical wisdom is perhaps more easily captured via a questionnaire than theoretical wisdom. In the current study, the authors1 combine domains characterized as practical (prosocial behavior and emotional regulation) and theoretical (spirituality). They do not include other domains, such as decisiveness and the tolerance of and ability to deal with uncertainty, because of a dearth of intervention studies in these domains.3 Therefore, the reader should focus on the 3 domains examined as components of a much larger and more complex construct of wisdom, a construct that may be beyond the boundaries of empirical exploration or at least pose considerable challenges thereto.

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