During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is paramount that people use wise reasoning to manage the uncertainty and work together, according to research from the University of Waterloo.

An international team of wisdom scientists led by a University of Waterloo professor have developed a Common Wisdom Model (CWM) that offers insights for exercising wisdom during societal challenges such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to the CWM, people can boost their wise reasoning when they maintain humility about their own knowledge, adapt to contexts, engage multiple viewpoints, and attempt to balance differing views. 

“A common wisdom model can provide a starting point for developing interventions to help combat foolish tendencies and balance personal interests with societal needs during these times of heightened risk and anxiety,” says Igor Grossmann, lead researcher on the study and Director of Waterloo’s Wisdom and Culture lab.

An international collaboration of wisdom researchers, led by Grossmann, performed a systematic review of theories to find the central characteristics of wisdom. Their model suggests that human capacity for wisdom chiefly concerns a combination of moral aspirations and wise reasoning – a set of meta-cognitive strategies allowing us to shift perspectives when reflecting on our own and others' thoughts.

The specific morality-based thought processes that guide wise solutions for social and societal challenges are, 1) consideration of shared humanity, 2) focus on the common good, and 3) pursuit of truth.

“The common wisdom model is required for implementing abstract moral decisions, allowing us to think through uncertainty, and helping us survive in challenging times by encouraging mutual coordination and long-term planning,” says Grossmann.

By providing guidance on how to identify and measure wisdom, the new model can help scholars and practitioners to devise methods to nurture wisdom in the challenging times ahead. 

“Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, societal inequalities and vulnerabilities have become more evident than ever before in the last several decades. People across the world have been asked to make sacrifices to their personal freedoms and economic security,” says Grossmann. “Wisdom is central for understanding how to balance these sacrifices with the protection of vulnerable citizens as society fights this pandemic, and how to navigate the the complex intergroup and geopolitical conflicts on the rise.”

“Even as communities begin to come out of isolation and test appropriate levels of social gathering--some less necessary than others--the CWM provides people a toolbox for reflecting on how they can do it wisely in this context,” he said.

The CWM provides scientists with a foundation for future studies on the role of wisdom in artificial intelligence, counselling, medicine, and neuroscience. It also provides a common language for practitioners interested in wise interventions.


The original paper, The Science of Wisdom in a Polarized World: Knowns and Unknowns, and the follow-up article with commentary, A Common Model is Essential for a Cumulative Science of Wisdom, are published in Psychological Inquiry. Find a link to the web conference here.

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