Comparisons of human service professional and layperson evaluations on the presence of wisdom

Francis Jethanand Hira


Among the growing number of investigators who are attempting to define the construct of wisdom, most have taken a similar approach to accomplishing this goal. One notable exception to a field that defines wisdom primarily according to the typical layperson is the Berlin group theoretical approach to wisdom. Although not entirely separated from the field, the Berlin group describes their theory of wisdom as a "deeply rooted social phenomenon" that is "manifest in everyday language." As a measure of concurrent validity of their theoretical definition, the Berlin group has correlated their theory-based data with data gathered from typical laypersons. These data represent evaluations of the presence of wisdom according to the Berlin definition in one case, and the typical layperson's definition in the other. In a 1992 study, the Berlin group sought the wisdom evaluations of the layperson population using a sample consisting of two highly educated human service professionals. Whether the composition and size of such a sample can adequately represent the layperson population appears to warrant empirical investigation. The purpose of the present study was to determine the degree to which a group of human service professionals can adequately represent the layperson population. Specifically, whether a sample of human service professionals differs from a sample of laypersons on wisdom evaluations of Life-Planning Task responses was determined. Results demonstrating that the two groups do not differ on the evaluation of wisdom lend support to the sampling procedures in use by the Berlin group. A significant interaction between grouping and Life-Planning Task variables is explained using observed differences in the description of a wise person. The perceived similarity of laypersons' descriptions of a wise person to descriptions taken from the literature are also presented. In addition, age-based differences in the evaluation of the presence of wisdom are discussed.