A new study in Learning and Instruction reports on an attempt to teach wisdom, generally.
The authors start by noting a couple of previous attempts to teach wisdom in this way. However, these attempts led to no apparent change in student wisdom levels, so you might think that was the end of the matter. But, no, these studies did not have a control group and this matters.
In the new study, there are three groups. The first group followed the ‘Wisdom 1’ course, the second group followed the ‘Wisdom 2’ course and the third group was a control. It does not appear that the college students involved were randomised into these conditions. Instead, it appears that they were selected into these courses in the same way that they would be for any of their other college courses. This lack of randomisation is a major issue and makes it hard to interpret the p-values that are later quoted because p-values assume a random sample.
The two ‘wisdom’ courses seem to have involved a mixture of reading literature, writing in journals and so on.
The intriguing part is how the authors supposedly measured the construct of wisdom. There is, apparently, a pre-existing ‘three-dimensional wisdom scale (3D-WS)’, the validity and reliability of which has been confirmed by previous research. I was not aware of this so I was keen to find out what it involves.
Students are asked a series of questions about how strongly they agree with a statement, or how true a statement is about them, which they rate on a Likert scale (1 = strongly agree, 5 = strongly disagree and so on). The statements include the intriguing ‘ignorance is bliss’, for which I am not even sure what the ‘wise’ answer would be. The researchers are aware that students may give socially desirable rather than honest responses and they attempt to counter this by wording some of the statements in the negative. I’m not sure why this would remove this problem.
The results are interesting, if difficult to interpret given the lack of randomisation. One of the wisdom courses led to no change in wisdom, the other led to an improvement and the control led to a decline! Commenting on this decline, the researchers suggest that a wisdom course that leads to no change in wisdom could actually be beneficial because it may be arresting a decline.
I think that’s a stretch.