Public Release: 

With distance comes greater wisdom, research finds

University of Waterloo

If you're faced with a troubling personal dilemma, such as a cheating spouse, you are more likely to think wisely about it if you consider it as an observer would, says a study led by a professor at the University of Waterloo.

Professor Igor Grossmann, of Waterloo, and Professor Ethan Kross from the University of Michigan, asked study participants to reflect on a relationship conflict of their own or someone else's, such as a spouse's infidelity with a close friend, and think about the conflict in the first and third person. The findings will appear in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.

"These results are the first to demonstrate a new type of bias within ourselves when it comes to wise reasoning about an interpersonal relationship dilemma," said Professor Grossmann. "We call the bias Solomon's Paradox, after the king who was known for his wisdom, but who still failed at making personal decisions."

The experiments indicated that we are wiser when reasoning about others' problems compared to our own. The reason for this discrepancy is because we distance ourselves from the issue.

The research compared results from younger adults aged 20 to 40 and those aged 60 to 80. Contrary to the adage that with age comes wisdom, the older adults were not more likely to reason wisely about their personal dilemma than their younger counterparts.

"We are the first to demonstrate that there is a simple way to eliminate this bias in reasoning by talking about ourselves in the third person and using our name when reflecting on a relationship conflict," said Professor Grossmann. "When we employ this strategy, we are more likely to think wisely about an issue."

Research in this area is ongoing. To learn more about upcoming studies or to participate, please visit the website for the Wisdom and Culture Lab at the University of Waterloo.


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