ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (5): 721-735.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.00721

• History of Psychology • Previous Articles     Next Articles

“One prelude” and “two movements”: A portrayal of the research process of wisdom psychology in the past 50 years

ZHANG Kaili, ZHENG Hong, WANG Fengyan()   

  1. Institute of Moral Education, Nanjing Normal University; School of Psychology, Nanjing Normal University; Nanjing 210097, China
  • Received:2022-12-11 Online:2023-05-15 Published:2023-02-13
  • Contact: WANG Fengyan


The psychological study of wisdom is becoming more and more widespread. To better carry forward the past and usher in the future, the research history of wisdom psychology in the past 50 years is comprehensively reviewed, critically drawing on the work of Sternberg and Glück. The symphony of the development of wisdom psychology consists of “one prelude” and “two movements”. Specifically, “one prelude” refers to Vivian Clayton’s wisdom research, which started no later than 1976 and ended abruptly in 1982, when Clayton left academia. Clayton elevated the concept of wisdom to scientific status for the first time, paving the way for empirical research on wisdom psychology. The brief period of Clayton’s academic career devoted to the study of wisdom psychology ignited the enthusiasm of scholars for research on wisdom psychology. The “two movements” are “one flower blooming with two buds” and “all flowers bloom together”. The first stage of wisdom psychology, begun in the early 1980s, was characterized by the leading position of the Berlin wisdom model, which shed light on an expert knowledge system dealing with the fundamental pragmatics of life, as well as neo-Piagetian theory and the balance theory of wisdom by Robert J. Sternberg. At that time, the uniqueness and importance of wisdom were uncovered, and these three theories together formed a solid theoretical foundation for the future development of wisdom psychology. The second stage of wisdom psychology began with Monika Ardelt’s critical review of the Berlin group’s definition, operationalization, and particular measurement of wisdom in 2004 and has continued to this day. It is characterized by vigorous development in the field of wisdom psychology and fruitful results, mainly demonstrated by two aspects. First, wisdom was treated as more important than knowledge. Accordingly, a variety of theories and measurements of wisdom were presented, promoting the development of wisdom research, such as the explicit three-dimensional wisdom model (3D-WM), the H.E.R.O.(E.) model of wisdom, wisdom as self-transcendence, and the two-dimensional theory of wisdom that integrates virtue and wit. Second, a wide array of research hotspots of wisdom emerged, which further deepened and broadened the field of wisdom psychology. To elaborate, research of wisdom psychology nowadays focuses on the controversies and resolutions of wisdom connotations, wise reasoning, the relationship between wisdom and self, wisdom education, and so forth. In reviewing the research history of wisdom psychology over the past half-century, two conclusions can be drawn. First, the study of wisdom psychology has evolved from spontaneity to consciousness, from dispersion to organization, and from sporadic discussion to systematic research. Second, the research object of wisdom has gone through an alternate spiral change process that from characteristics of the wise person to characteristics of wisdom per se, and back to characteristics of the wise person, until finally, integration of the two. Furthermore, future research on wisdom psychology should be promoted in two areas. One aspect is to develop a maturely experimental paradigm for studying wisdom directly and revealing its brain mechanism. The other is to pay more attention to the study of applying wisdom to real-life situations.

Key words: implicit three-dimensional wisdom view, Berlin wisdom model, neo-Piagetian theory, the balance theory of wisdom, explicit three-dimensional wisdom model

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