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Is it true that ‘age brings wisdom?’

zen master and his tea

Zen Master and his tea

Americans, often wizened with Age, but Japanese are Wise from the Start* 

ONE stereotype of wisdom is a wizened Zen-master smiling benevolently at the antics of his pupils, while referring to them as little grasshoppers or some such affectation, safe in the knowledge that one day they, too, will have been set on the path that leads to wizened masterhood. But is it true that age brings wisdom? A study two years ago in North America, by Igor Grossmann of the University of Waterloo, in Canada, suggested that it is. In as much as it is possible to quantify wisdom, Dr Grossmann found that elderly Americans had more of it than youngsters. He has, however, now extended his investigation to Asia—the land of the wizened Zen-master—and, in particular, to Japan. There, he found, in contrast to the West, that the grasshoppers are their masters’ equals almost from the beginning.*

*Source: The Economist

Dr Grossmann’s study, just published in Psychological Science, recruited 186 Japanese from various walks of life and compared them with 225 Americans. Participants were asked to read a series of pretend newspaper articles. Half described conflict between groups, such as a debate between residents of an impoverished Pacific island over whether to allow foreign oil companies to operate there following the discovery of petroleum. (Those in favour viewed it as an opportunity to get rich; those against feared the disruption of ancient ways and potential ecological damage.) The other half took the form of advice columns that dealt with conflicts between individuals: siblings, friends and spouses. After reading each article, participants were asked “What do you think will happen after that?” and “Why do you think it will happen this way?” Their responses were recorded and transcribed.

Dr Grossmann and his colleagues removed age-related information from the transcripts, and also any clues to participants’ nationalities, and then passed the edited versions to a group of assessors. These assessors were trained to rate transcribed responses consistently, and had been tested to show that their ratings were statistically comparable with one another.

>> Continue reading at The Economist

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