Can wisdom be measured?

I know. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  Knowledge can be measured – although even that rouses controversy. But how could anyone possibly measure wisdom?

Perhaps I should not have been surprised to find out that academics have attempted to measure wisdom. Monika Ardelt, a sociology professor at the University of Florida, has become a guru of wisdom. (Someday I hope to ask her for an interview or guest post about her research!) She developed a questionnaire that attempts to measure your level of wisdom. It is a list of 39 statements, and you rate yourself according to whether you agree with each statement or whether it is true of you.

Drawing on research by other scholars before her, Professor Ardelt divides wisdom into three categories: cognitive, reflective, and affective. What does all that mean, in plain English? For “cognitive,” she looks at how well you understand the complexities of life and human nature and how well can you make decisions. By “reflective,” she means self-awareness and the ability to look at things from other perspectives. And “affective” measures how compassionate you are toward other people.

I found this fascinating. When I created the twenty questions I wanted to ask of wise people, I noticed that most of my topics involved either self-reflection (understanding how you deal with anger, attitude toward happiness, response to failure) or interpersonal relations (with spouse, grown children, difficult people). My questions fell neatly into Ardelt’s categories of “reflective” and “affective.” I didn’t ask the kinds of questions she includes under “cognitive” – but I can see how they reflect wisdom as well.

So, how wise am I, according to her scorecard? Well, I took her “test” twice, and the second time I was more honest about myself – and my score was lower. It’s easy to figure out the “right” answers; you could probably get a full score if you tried. (For those of you who aimed for an 800 on your SATs!) But the point is to do a realistic assessment of your own level of wisdom. Suffice it to say, I could be a lot wiser than I am! And that’s why I’m on this journey with you.

If you want to check out your own level of wisdom – and get a sense for the kinds of questions that measure wisdom – check out Professor Ardelt’s scorecard. It was published in The New York Times in 2007 and is available here:

Let me know how you do!

About dorijonesyang

As a former journalist in Hong Kong, I love writing books that bridge the gap of understanding between China and America. My new book, When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China's Reawakening, will be published in September 2020.
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1 Response to Can wisdom be measured?

  1. Linda Sheehan says:

    Dori- According to this questionnaire I am “moderately wise”. I know that I would have scored higher if I didn’t find other people and their problems so annoying and irritating at times !
    But,seriously, I wonder how much these questions take into account different personality types..I need lots of “alone” time, and become quiet and withdrawn when processing problems,situations,etc. I just don’t want to be bothered by other people then.However, this behavior is balanced by my vocational choices -nursing and midwifery.My behavior differs according to which “mode” I’m operating in at any given time.
    I guess I could say that becoming wiser for me has been acknowledging this “split” in myself and learning to work with it.

    This is an interesting project- though the definition of wisdom is not one I think of much outside of Buddhist philosophy.

    We are both “elders” now, so .I suppose we have to start manifesting some wisdom -it’s expected !


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