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Women and Men Differ in Relative Strengths in Wisdom Profiles: A Study of 659 Adults Across the Lifespan

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Wisdom is a multi-component trait that is important for mental health and well-being. In this study, we sought to understand gender differences in relative strengths in wisdom. A total of 659 individuals aged 27–103 years completed surveys including the 3-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3D-WS) and the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE). Analyses assessed gender differences in wisdom and gender’s moderating effect on the relationship between wisdom and associated constructs including depression, loneliness, well-being, optimism, and resilience. Women scored higher on average on the 3D-WS but not on the SD-WISE. Women scored higher on compassion-related domains and on SD-WISE Self-Reflection. Men scored higher on cognitive-related domains and on SD-WISE Emotion Regulation. There was no impact of gender on the relationships between wisdom and associated constructs. Women and men have different relative strengths in wisdom, likely driven by sociocultural and biological factors. Tailoring wisdom interventions to individuals based on their profiles is an important next step.
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ORIGINAL RESEARCH
published: 03 February 2022
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.769294
Edited by:
Saskia M. Kelders,
University of Twente, Netherlands
Reviewed by:
Michel Ferrari,
University of Toronto, Canada
Judith Glück,
University of Klagenfurt, Austria
*Correspondence:
Dilip V. Jeste
djeste@health.ucsd.edu
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Positive Psychology,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 01 September 2021
Accepted: 16 December 2021
Published: 03 February 2022
Citation:
Treichler EBH, Palmer BW,
Wu T-C, Thomas ML, Tu XM, Daly R,
Lee EE and Jeste DV (2022) Women
and Men Differ in Relative Strengths
in Wisdom Profiles: A Study of 659
Adults Across the Lifespan.
Front. Psychol. 12:769294.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.769294
Women and Men Differ in Relative
Strengths in Wisdom Profiles: A
Study of 659 Adults Across the
Lifespan
Emily B. H. Treichler1,2,3, Barton W. Palmer1,2,4 , Tsung-Chin Wu3,5, Michael L. Thomas6,
Xin M. Tu3,5, Rebecca Daly1,2, Ellen E. Lee1,2,4 and Dilip V. Jeste1,2,7*
1VA Desert Pacific Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC), San Diego, CA, United States,
2Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States, 3Sam and Rose Stein Institute
for Research on Aging, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States, 4VA San Diego Healthcare
System, San Diego, CA, United States, 5Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San
Diego, San Diego, CA, United States, 6Department of Psychology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO,
United States, 7Department of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States
Wisdom is a multi-component trait that is important for mental health and well-being.
In this study, we sought to understand gender differences in relative strengths in
wisdom. A total of 659 individuals aged 27–103 years completed surveys including
the 3-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3D-WS) and the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-
WISE). Analyses assessed gender differences in wisdom and gender’s moderating effect
on the relationship between wisdom and associated constructs including depression,
loneliness, well-being, optimism, and resilience. Women scored higher on average on
the 3D-WS but not on the SD-WISE. Women scored higher on compassion-related
domains and on SD-WISE Self-Reflection. Men scored higher on cognitive-related
domains and on SD-WISE Emotion Regulation. There was no impact of gender on
the relationships between wisdom and associated constructs. Women and men have
different relative strengths in wisdom, likely driven by sociocultural and biological factors.
Tailoring wisdom interventions to individuals based on their profiles is an important
next step.
Keywords: age, positive psychiatry, compassion, self-reflection, emotional regulation
INTRODUCTION
Wisdom is one of six core virtues shared across cultures (Peterson and Seligman, 2004;Dahlsgaard
et al., 2005), and an increasing area of interest in mental health disciplines due to its link with
health, mental health, and well-being (Staudinger and Glück, 2011;Webster et al., 2014;Jeste et al.,
2020b). Although the study of wisdom was developed and nurtured in the humanities, in recent
decades psychology, psychiatry, and related disciplines have begun to study the topic empirically
(Bangen et al., 2013;Glück, 2020;Jeste et al., 2020b). Wisdom is a complex, multi-component
trait that includes cognitive, reflective, and affective dimensions (Ardelt, 2003). There are several
components common across many proposed definitions of wisdom in the literature – viz.,
pro-social behaviors and attitudes, including empathy and compassion; emotional regulation, with
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a tendency toward stable, positive mood; self-reflection and
awareness; ability to acknowledge and tolerate uncertainty and
disagreement; decisiveness; and social advising (Meeks and Jeste,
2009). Some experts also consider spirituality to be a component
of wisdom, although there is less consensus on the latter
conclusion (Jeste et al., 2020c). Therefore, the contemporary
empirical model of wisdom includes and integrates pragmatic
elements, like effective social and decision-making skills, and
broader elements, like acceptance of self and others, that harken
back to its philosophical origins.
The burgeoning positive psychiatry subfield focuses on
improving outcomes like quality of life and well-being (Jeste
et al., 2015), so wisdom has found a natural home there. Similarly
to related domains in positive psychiatry such as resilience
and optimism, there is evidence that it is possible to increase
wisdom, and that doing so also increasing in quality of life and
well-being (Kim et al., 2013;McLaughlin et al., 2018;Paredes
et al., 2020;Treichler et al., 2020). A recent meta-analysis of
randomized controlled trials targeting individual components of
wisdom including empathy and compassion found that nearly
one-half of the psychosocial or behavioral interventions were
effective with medium to large effect sizes (Lee et al., 2020).
Therefore, determining differences in levels of wisdom and its
components in specific subgroups of people would help target
and tailor associated interventions both at the individual and
public health level. For example, one study of emerging adults
found four distinct wisdom profiles (Booker and Dunsmore,
2016) indicating different levels of need for intervention, and
areas of focus for that potential intervention. More broadly, use
of wisdom assessment in clinical practice might be useful in
identifying which of existing interventions might be the best fit.
In this article, we examine the association between gender and
wisdom. Some reviews and theoretical work have pronounced
wisdom should be “androgynous” (Aldwin, 2009) and
emphasized wisdom constructs must actively avoid gender
bias (Levenson, 2009) both in terms of their conceptualization
and their measurement. Yet, of the six studies we found in a
thorough but non-systematic review of the literature focused on
gender differences in wisdom (Ardelt, 2009;Kanwar, 2013;Singh
and Dahiya, 2013;Bang, 2015;Cheraghi et al., 2015;Maroof et al.,
2015), and the nine additional studies that included secondary or
exploratory analyses about gender differences in wisdom (Ardelt,
1997,2015;Yang, 2001;Webster, 2003;Levenson et al., 2005;
Glück et al., 2013;Bang and Zhou, 2014;König and Glück, 2014;
Brienza et al., 2018), nine reported gender differences in one or
more analysis (Ardelt, 2003, 2009;Webster, 2003;Kanwar, 2013;
Singh and Dahiya, 2013;Bang and Zhou, 2014;Cheraghi et al.,
2015;Maroof et al., 2015;Brienza et al., 2018). The other six
studies did not find gender differences in any analysis.
The direction of the differences identified were mixed. In
three studies of the nine studies where gender differences were
found, women scored higher on overall wisdom (Webster, 2003;
Singh and Dahiya, 2013;Bang and Zhou, 2014). The rest of the
studies did not find an overall pattern where one gender scored
higher than the other, but rather found differences in one or
more subdomains. These subdomain findings as a whole do not
create a clear pattern. For example, one study found that women
scored higher on the affective or compassionate subscale (Ardelt,
2009) while another found that men scored higher on the same
subscale (Maroof et al., 2015). Studies have reported a variety of
findings regarding gender differences in the cognitive subdomain,
including that women of all ages score lower (Ardelt, 2003), only
older women score lower (Cheraghi et al., 2015), and only older
men score higher (Ardelt, 2009). Notably, these studies varied in
the mean age of the sample, the sample size, the measure(s) of
wisdom and well-being used, and the country or region where
the data were collected, which also relates to the variability in
race and ethnicity of the sample, and the cultural values of the
sample. These differences may impact the findings themselves;
study found that men in a non-North American scored higher
at wise reasoning in conflict than non-North American women,
but there were no differences between North American men and
women in wise reasoning in conflict, or between women and
men in either group for any other subdomain (Brienza et al.,
2018). Which conceptualization of wisdom is being measured
also plays a role: a study in India using a less frequently used
measure found that men scored higher only on the humor
subscale (Kanwar, 2013).
Examination of related psychological constructs yields
support for gender differences in a subset of wisdom components.
A meta-analysis of the 24 character traits making up the six
virtues, including wisdom, found differences between women
and men in 17 traits, although 13 of these were very small in size
(Heintz et al., 2019). There were small to medium effect sizes
in appreciation of beauty/excellence, gratitude, kindness, and
love, with women scoring higher in each category on average.
Evidence for gender differences in emotional regulation is
mixed, broadly indicating that women and men utilize different
emotional regulation strategies and the choice of strategy impacts
mental health outcomes (Nolen-Hoeksema and Aldao, 2011;
Nolen-Hoeksema, 2012;Zimmermann and Iwanski, 2014).
Women have been consistently reported to have higher empathy
and compassion toward others (e.g., Eisenberg and Lennon, 1983;
Sprecher and Fehr, 2005;Martins et al., 2013;Pommier et al.,
2020). Compassion is the single most important component of
wisdom, providing more evidence that wisdom varies by gender.
Gender norms, differential approaches to upbringing and
socialization, and other sociocultural factors may support
increased development of some areas of wisdom in women
compared to men and vice versa. Related work finds that women
and men report some variance in terms of how they conceptualize
wisdom, where women are somewhat more likely to endorse
a “integrative” model while men are somewhat more likely to
endorse a “cognitive” model (König and Glück, 2013). This
variance may impact the development of wisdom. For example,
an international study of 800 female and male adolescents 15–
18 years old identified different conceptualizations of wisdom;
male adolescents tended to describe wise people as calculating,
strict, and questioning, while female adolescents tended to
conceptualize wise people as cooperative, optimistic, extroverted,
and spontaneous (Hollingworth et al., 2013). However, gender
differences between adults in wisdom concepts tend to be quite
small (e.g., Glück et al., 2009;Glück and Bluck, 2011;König and
Glück, 2013), although they do follow the integrative/cognitive
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pattern. Women are more likely to rate confronting mortality
and dealing with negative life events as relevant to developing
wisdom, while men were more likely to think that studying
philosophy was relevant (Glück et al., 2009). Similarly, when
women and men with significant work histories are asked to
report situations where they have been wise, 44.9% of men
report work experiences, while only 21.2% of women report work
experiences, and are more likely to report a negative experience
including a loss or death (Glück et al., 2009). Therefore, although
there is notable overlap in wisdom conceptualization across
gender, there are also some distinctions. Those distinctions may
translate into differences into how people develop or intentionally
pursue wisdom (Hollingworth et al., 2013). Ardelt (2003) also
suggested that women and men may receive different levels of
support from others in the pursuit of different components of
wisdom based on gender-based norms; i.e., that an average man
might be encouraged to advance their cognitive wisdom through
learning and reflection more than an average woman. This idea is
supported by evidence that some components of wisdom tend to
be societally seen as a “belonging” to one gender, for example,
decisiveness is often seen as a masculine trait (Alexander and
Andersen, 1993;Ronk, 1993;Hofstede, 1996). This could mean
that a woman and a man with baseline equal levels of wisdom,
or wisdom capabilities, might have different levels of wisdom
cultivation overall, and particularly by subarea due to internal
and external factors, both influenced by sociocultural gender
norms. Although we expect that sociocultural factors make up
the majority of any gender differences in wisdom, there are also
biological underpinnings to wisdom (Meeks and Jeste, 2009)
which are likely to vary based on different aspects of biological sex
(e.g., hormonal variance). Although gender and sex are not the
same construct, gender groups show biologically based variances
in some ways (Rametti et al., 2011;Hines, 2020;Kiyar et al., 2020).
Thus, the existing work in this area argues for a gender-neutral
wisdom construct, but the empirical studies show mixed findings
regarding the current gender-based differences in wisdom, which
may exist for sociocultural and biological reasons. Identifying
and characterizing gender differences is important because it
will better illuminate the current wisdom construct as it is
being commonly measured today, and whether it differs from
the gender-neutral goal originally sought. It also allows for
the consideration of individualized pathways to wisdom. The
existence of wisdom subdomains, alongside previous discussion
regarding individual development and pursuit of wisdom (e.g.,
Aldwin, 2009;Hollingworth et al., 2013), suggests the existence of
‘wisdom profiles,’ with varying strengths and weaknesses. It may
further suggest that individuals, and perhaps identifiable groups
like women and men, may pursue and achieve wisdom and
its associated positive psychiatry outcomes, via different paths.
Identifying and deeply understanding these groups, profiles,
and pathways will facilitate improved understanding of the
wisdom concept itself as well as how support development
of wisdom and promotion of associated outcomes in positive
psychiatry. The growing set of positive psychiatry interventions
often target wisdom and its subdomains alongside other related
outcomes, like resilience and optimism, and sometimes also
intend to improve symptoms, emotional distress, or social
disconnectedness (e.g., Lee et al., 2020). This approach may
include implicit assumptions that these constructs are linearly
associated with each other across individuals and groups.
However, given the possibility of “wisdom profiles,” that vary
among groups like women and men, understanding how those
profiles impact the relationship between wisdom and associated
constructs targeted in positive psychiatry interventions would
be useful for ensuring that these interventions are maximally
effective at the group and individual level.
Aims and Hypotheses
Therefore, in this study, we examined gender differences in a
relatively large community-based sample across the adult lifespan
using two validated rating scales (Ardelt, 2003;Thomas et al.,
2019). We included other relevant measures related to well-being
to better understand whether any potential differences in wisdom
between women and men impacted the relationship between
wisdom and those constructs associated with well-being.
Based on the existing literature, our first hypothesis was
that compassion-related domains such as the Affective or
Compassionate dimension of the 3-Dimensional Wisdom Scale
(3D-WS), and Pro-Social Behaviors and Acceptance of Diverse
Perspectives on the San Diego Wisdom Scale would be higher
among women. The second hypothesis was that men would
score higher on cognitive-related domains like the Cognitive
dimension of the 3D-WS and Decisiveness on the San Diego
Wisdom Scale. The third hypothesis was that women would
score higher on wisdom total scores. Given significant differences
between women and men in this same sample in age, income,
education, and marital status, these variables were also included
in the model. We conducted two sets of exploratory analyses:
first, to test whether the magnitude of gender differences in
wisdom would vary between more wise and less wise individuals,
as posited by Orwoll and Achenbaum (1993) and supported by
Ardelt (2009); and second, to test whether gender impacted the
relationship between wisdom and measures of well-being, to
understand whether potential gender differences might impact
how wisdom relates to other constructs typically targeted by
positive psychiatry interventions.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
This study was approved by the University of California, San
Diego Human Research Protections Program (#171635).
Participants
The participants in this study were recruited from the UCSD
Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE) study, an ongoing project
which has been described in previous work (Thomas et al.,
2016). Briefly, SAGE is a multicohort study targeting adults
across the lifespan. Participants included adults aged 27–103 who
are currently living in the community, physically and mentally
able to complete the assessments, have access to a phone in
their homes, and have no known dementia diagnosis. People
living in nursing homes, those who required daily skilled nursing
care, and those with a terminal illness were excluded. The study
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oversampled adults over age 75 because adults in this age group
tend to be under-represented in studies of aging. Participants
were identified through random digit dialing and completed a 25-
min initial phone interview followed by a survey that was mailed
or completed online. Participants were provided information
about the study in a packet to guide them in their decision
to participate; however, documented consent was waived by
the human protections review board. In this study, we used
the assessment done in 2018 or 2019, when we had data on
both the scales of wisdom, creating a cross-sectional dataset of
659 individuals.
Measures
Two measures of wisdom with good to excellent psychometric
properties including reliability, convergent validity, and
divergent validity were included in this study. The first was
the 39-item 3D-WS, which has three subscales capturing the
Cognitive, Reflective, and Affective (Compassionate) dimensions
of wisdom (Ardelt, 2003). The second measure was the 24-
item San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE) (Thomas et al.,
2019) which has six subscales: Social Advising, Decisiveness,
Emotional Regulation, Self-Reflection (previously called Insight),
Acceptance of Diverse Perspectives (previously called Tolerance
for Divergent Values), and Pro-Social Behaviors.
Gender was self-reported with two categorical options: “male”
or “female.” This approach allowed for examining differences
between people identifying as men and women, the two most
frequently reported genders (Richards et al., 2016), but has
inherent limitations because it does not apply to all people’s
experience of their gender (Hyde et al., 2019).
Additional measures were included to examine associated
constructs: the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression
Scale (CES-D) (Radloff, 1977), UCLA Loneliness Scale – Third
Edition (ULS) (Russell, 1996), The Mental Wellbeing subscale of
the SF-36 (Ware, 2000), Life Orientation Test-Revised (Glaesmer
et al., 2012) (LOT-R, a measure of optimism), and Connor
Davidson Resilience Scale (Campbell-Sills and Stein, 2007) (CD-
RISC).
Statistical Analysis
Linear models were performed to examine the relationship
between wisdom (the dependent variable) and gender
(independent variable). Income, education, age, and marital
status were also included as covariates because there were
significant differences between women and men in this sample
on those demographic areas. One model was calculated for
3D-WS total score, SD-WISE total score, and subscale scores
for each measure. Cohen’s dwas calculated for each gender
effect. For the first set of exploratory analyses, a median split
was calculated for 3D-WS total score, SD-WISE total score,
and subscale scores for each measure. Separate linear models
were performed to identify how the interaction between gender
and the median split dummy coded variable impacted the
relationship between gender and each wisdom variable. For the
second set of exploratory analyses, separate linear models were
performed to identify how the interaction between gender and
each wisdom total score and subscale score impacted CES-D
(Depression), the UCLA-3 Loneliness, SF-36 Mental Well-being,
LOT-R Optimism, and CD-RISC Resilience scores. These
analyses were adjusted for family-wise error by using the false
discovery rate (FDR) correction.
RESULTS
Detailed demographic comparison of men and women in the
sample is presented in Table 1.
On the 3D-WS, the mean score among women was
significantly higher on the Affective or Compassionate
Dimension subscale score relative to men, p= 0.008 with a
medium effect size (Cohen’s d= 0.481). Men scored significantly
higher on the Cognitive Dimension, p= 0.019, with a small effect
size (Cohen’s d= 0.184). Women also had higher 3D-WS total
score, p= 0.01, with a small effect size (Cohen’s d= 0.292). Please
see Figure 1A and Table 1.
There were significant differences between women and men
in all six subscales of the SD-WISE (all p<0.05, Figure 1B and
Table 1). These differences varied in direction such that men
had higher scores on Emotional Regulation and Decisiveness,
while women had higher scores on Insight, Tolerance of
Divergent Values, Pro-social Behaviors, and Social Advising.
These differences had small-to-medium effect sizes (Cohen’s
d= 0.110–0.331), with the Emotion Regulation effect being
the largest. There was no significant difference between women
and men in the overall SD-WISE score, indicating that the
relative strengths and weaknesses of each group balanced out in
the overall score.
Median splits created “high wisdom” and “low wisdom”
categories for each wisdom measure and subdomain to identify
whether there was variability in size of gender effects by group.
For 3D-WS Reflective Dimension, people in the “low wisdom”
category had a larger gender difference such that women scored
higher in wisdom than men, p<0.001 (η2p= 0.010). There
was no significant difference between women and men in the
“high wisdom” group for 3D-WS Reflective Dimension, p= 0.17.
There were no other differences between “high wisdom” and “low
wisdom” in any other categories.
Exploratory analyses examined how gender may moderate the
relationship between wisdom and measures of well-being. Main
effects supported the relationship between these variables and
wisdom regardless of gender; however, gender did not moderate
the relationship between wisdom and any of the measures of
well-being including depression, loneliness, mental well-being,
optimism, and resilience (Supplementary Tables 15).
DISCUSSION
This study on gender differences in wisdom found evidence
that women and men differed on some components of
wisdom. However, these differences were not uniform, but
rather varied based on subdomains of wisdom as hypothesized.
Women scored higher on several subdomains associated with
social connection and compassion, including 3D-WS Affective
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TABLE 1 | Demographic and clinical characteristics of women and men.
Women Men
NMean or % SD Range NMean or % SD Range p
Sociodemographic
Age (years) 334 64.76 19.8 27.35–103.78 325 69.0 18.31 27.36–102.67 0.004
Race (% white) 244 73.1 253 77.8 0.49
Education (%) 0.03
High School and Below 34 10.18 25 7.7
Some College to Bachelor’s Degree 181 54.19 162 49.85
Post-Graduate Degree 117 35.03 135 41.54
Household Income (%) 0.001
<$35,000 56 16.77 27 8.31
$35,000 – $74,999 61 18.26 59 18.15
$75,000+ 160 47.90 190 58.46
Current Marital Status (% marriage-like) 160 48.20 246 76.16 <0.001
Wisdom Measures
3-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3D-WS) 310 3.69 0.43 314 3.56 0.45 0.01
3D-WS Cognitive Dimension 310 3.55 0.50 314 3.47 0.56 0.019
3D-WS Reflective Dimension 310 3.91 0.55 314 3.88 0.56 0.94
3D-WS Affective (Compassionate) Dimension 310 3.60 0.51 314 3.56 0.53 0.008
San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE) 310 3.86 0.43 314 3.86 0.45 0.55
SD-WISE Social Advising 310 3.81 0.55 314 3.71 0.62 0.02
SD-WISE Decisiveness 310 3.61 0.81 314 3.83 0.70 0.015
SD-WISE Emotional Regulation 310 3.58 0.69 314 3.80 0.64 <0.001
SD-WISE Self-Reflection 310 3.85 0.62 314 3.73 0.65 0.03
SD-WISE Acceptance of Diverse Perspectives 310 4.05 0.55 314 3.89 0.62 0.001
SD-WISE Pro-Social Behaviors 310 4.28 0.49 4.23 0.50 0.035
Wellbeing Measures
Depression (CES-D) 319 5.56 5.27 315 5.10 4.55 0.24
Resilience (CD-RISC) 329 29.94 6.09 320 31.36 6.17 0.03
Optimism (LOT-R) 319 23.71 4.14 317 23.71 3.96 0.64
Loneliness (ULS) 315 36.33 10.44 314 36.61 10.18 0.74
Mental Wellbeing (SF-36) 326 52.90 9.21 322 54.07 8.32 0.09
All Wisdom p-values corrected as described in sections “Materials and Methods” and “Results.” CES-D, Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale; CD-RISC,
Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale; LOT-R, Life Orientation Task-Revised; ULS, UCLA Loneliness Scale. Bolded p values are significant; p <0.05.
or Compassionate Dimension, and SD-WISE Acceptance of
Diverse Perspectives, Pro-Social Behavior and Social Advising
subscales. We did not hypothesize differences in the reflection
subdomains; women also scored higher on SD-WISE Insight
subscale, and women in the lower half of the median split
scored higher than men in the 3D-WS Reflective Dimension.
On the other hand, men scored higher on SD-WISE and
Emotional Regulation and Decisiveness subscales, and the
Cognitive Dimension of the 3D-WS. Our third hypothesis
was only confirmed by one of the wisdom measures: total
wisdom scores were higher among women on the 3D-
WS but not on the SD-WISE total score. SD-WISE has 6
components and offers a more detailed examination of wisdom,
with relative strengths in each gender being neutralized by
relative weaknesses in others. Only one measure, the 3D-
WS Reflective, supported theory and evidence that there are
larger gender differences among people with less wisdom. We
also did not find any evidence that the gender moderated
the relationship between wisdom and measures of well-being
including depression, loneliness, mental well-being, optimism,
and resilience.
Although some of these findings were unanticipated, others
were well-aligned with past research in this and related areas.
Acceptance of Diverse Perspectives and Social Advising both
require perspective-taking and interest in the well-being and
values of others even when they are misaligned with one’s
own. It seems likely that both of these domains are related
to compassion, a domain that women reliably score higher
(Eisenberg and Lennon, 1983;Sprecher and Fehr, 2005;Martins
et al., 2013). Previous research has found evidence that older men
score higher on cognitive domains of wisdom (Ardelt, 2009),
and that older women score lower on these domains (Cheraghi
et al., 2015). Cheraghi and colleagues’ findings may have been
significantly impacted by its setting in Iran, leading to much
stronger differences than found in Ardelt’s (2009) study or our
own. In our study, we found that men of all ages scored higher
on cognitive domains of wisdom and Decisiveness in particular,
a novel finding. Our findings that men scored higher on Emotion
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FIGURE 1 | (A) Gender differences in 3D Wisdom Scores. (B) Gender differences in SD-WISE scores. p<0.05, ∗∗p<0.01, ∗∗∗p<0.001. Error bars represent
standard error.
Regulation and women scored higher on one measure of Self-
Reflection were also novel.
There are two potential causes for the gender differences we
identified. One is biological. In this regard, it is important not
to conflate sex and gender, but rather to discuss the potential
impact of biological processes including sex on differences
in wisdom. The finding of greater empathy and compassion
toward others in women has been reported across time periods
and across cultures. Sex-based differences in oxytocin receptor
gene polymorphism may lead to increased empathy in women
(Wu et al., 2012). In a different lab-based study, women and
men performed similarly on three empathy tasks, but women
activated more emotion- and self-based regions of the brain
while men activated more cognitive-based regions, somewhat
aligned with our findings (Derntl et al., 2010). In another
study, women and men showed differences in neural activity
during completion of emotion regulation tasks, although it was
unclear whether these differences were innate and/or learned
(McRae et al., 2008). This latter concept is important to consider;
variance in biological processes can be externally caused, driven
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by sociocultural processes and the socialization that results.
These findings, taken together, might indicate that individuals
may use different strategies to achieve wisdom-associated goals
based on biological and/or sociocultural processes, but that
the strategy itself may not be particularly important as long
as it works well for the individual and taps into at least
one wisdom subcomponent. That is, it may not be necessary
to have a high level of wisdom in all areas as long as the
strengths an individual does have work effectively across aspects
of that person’s life.
These sociocultural processes mentioned are the second, and
likely to be the most influential cause for the observed gender
difference in wisdom, including social expectations, gender
norms and how wisdom-relevant behaviors are differentially
reinforced between boys/men and girls/women by parents,
teachers, peers, and society at large. Boys and men tend
to be socialized toward behaviors including toughness and
leadership, which may translate into being more decisive and
in control of emotions, whereas girls and women tend to be
socialized toward behaviors including warmth and caretaking,
which may translate into pro-social behaviors including being
compassionate and accepting of diverse people and ideas (Eagly,
2013). Male adolescents conceptualize wise people as somewhat
more calculating, strict, and questioning than female adolescents
do (Hollingworth et al., 2013); a description that fits well with
being decisive and more focused on cognitive processes rather
than emotion. Female adolescents conceptualize wise people
as somewhat more cooperative, optimistic, extroverted, and
spontaneous than male adolescents do (Hollingworth et al.,
2013); which similarly aligns with being compassionate and
oriented toward others. Additionally, men tend to report that
work situations help develop wisdom, while women report that
family-related and loss situations help develop wisdom (Glück
et al., 2009). Furthermore, when people are asked to describe a
wise man or a wise woman, wise women are somewhat more
likely to be described as having compassion for others (Glück
et al., 2009). Therefore, it appears that there are differences
in how people conceptualize and actively develop wisdom by
gender, indicating sociocultural causes based in gender norms.
This may similarly indicate that women and men focus on
different subdomains of wisdom as personal areas of growth
to work toward, based on what they personally value, which is
naturally situated within sociocultural context and gender norms.
Of course, there is variance in gender norms by culture and
region, and these norms change over time and by generation.
This may explain why there is some variability in findings
about gender differences in wisdom, given that research has
been conducted in multiple different countries and regions
with samples of different racial groups and age groups (e.g.,
Yang, 2001;Kanwar, 2013;Bang, 2015;Cheraghi et al., 2015;
Maroof et al., 2015).
It has been argued that wisdom should be a broadly
gender-neutral construct (Levenson, 2009) so that it does not
facilitate gender bias by promoting attributes that current gender
norms associate with one gender or another. Another theory
(Orwoll and Achenbaum, 1993;Ardelt, 2009) posited that gender
differences in wisdom may only be present at lower levels of
wisdom, because very wise people will be strong in all wisdom
subdomains. However, we found evidence for this in only one
subdomain of wisdom, 3D-WS Reflective. Given our findings, a
two-prong question can be considered: is the construct of wisdom
gender neutral, and if it is, are we observing gender bias in current
measures of wisdom? Our first comment regarding this question
is that the route to wisdom does not have to be identical for each
person- and indeed, we would argue that a society benefits from
diversity in this respect, as in many other respects. Additionally,
as observed in the emotion regulation and empathy literature
(e.g., McRae et al., 2008;Derntl et al., 2010), individuals may
use different strategies or subdomains of wisdom to achieve
similar goals, indicating that there are many paths to a wise life,
and high levels of wisdom in each subdomain is not necessary.
For example, a woman and a man pursuing wisdom through
individualized pathways might react to interpersonal conflict in
different ways. The woman, with strengths in compassion, self-
reflection, and acceptance of diverse perspectives, might seek to
understand the conflict through the other person’s point of view,
and show compassion for that person and their perspective even
if they disagree. In contrast, the man, with strengths in emotional
regulation and decisiveness, might retain emotional equilibrium
despite the conflict and come to an understanding within himself
that their relationship with that other person is more important
than the issue they are disagreeing about, and therefore, decide
to move beyond it instead of continuing the conflict. Therefore,
the outcome may look similar from the outside – prioritizing
personal relationship above the conflict -but the strategies used
to achieve the outcome would be different.
Therefore, it seems to us that variance by subgroup in
strengths and weaknesses at the wisdom subdomain level is not
a flaw. It may not indicate gender bias as much as it does allowing
for a diversity of paths toward wisdom. However, given the
alignment between our findings and what has been previously
noted to be valued as wise behavior by women and men, we
wonder whether these differences might lessen as the divide
in societal expectations of women and men fades. We would
also note that these effects were small, indicating that although
differences existed, women and men still had meaningful overlap
as groups in their wisdom scores.
Finally, it seems that, at the macro level, the SD-WISE measure
does not show evidence of an overall gender difference, unlike
3D-WS. The subcomponents included in a measure of wisdom
will of course impact gender and other group differences. These
two measures of wisdom measures were developed conceptually
and tested psychometrically, using theoretical and empirical
findings on layperson and expert definitions of wisdom without
focusing on gender balance (c.f., Ardelt, 2003;Thomas et al.,
2019;Jeste et al., 2020b,c). Variance in development choices (for
example, separating out aspects of cognitive subcomponents of
wisdom in the SD-WISE compared in combining them into one
scale in the 3D-WS) may have influenced balance and therefore
our findings. Given that wisdom is intended to be balanced,
or without bias at least in its total score, measure developers,
and researchers choosing measures, should consider these issues
to avoid accidental bias. Glück et al.’s (2013) paper assessed
five measures of wisdom, including the 3D-WS (the SD-WISE
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Treichler et al. Wisdom and Gender
was developed later) and provided general recommendations to
guide selection.
Study Limitations
The cross-sectional design prevents assessment of differences
in how wisdom develops and evolves over the lifespan. Future
longitudinal work will be able to fully describe this development
by gender, and the influence of other important factors including
those associated with mental health and wellbeing. Longitudinal
work may also be able to examine some of the hypotheses we
and others have considered in regards to why and how gender
differences occur. Participants self-identified their genders, and
only binary options were offered so there were no options for
people who are non-binary or other genders. Understanding
wisdom profiles of non-binary people in future studies would be
particularly enlightening in understanding how wisdom develops
among people who may be less bound to traditional gender
norms. We did not collect data to identify how many participants
were transgender, which would aid in understanding whether
transgender women and men have unique wisdom profiles
relative to cis women and men. We did not collect any biomarkers
relevant to gender or sex, so assessment of the potential impact of
hormones or other factors was not possible. The study sample
was predominantly white and came from an urban county in
the United States; thus, the findings may not apply to other
race/ethnic groups and different cultural regions, and study of
other groups is important. We should point out, however, that
in a recent study using SD-WISE and ULS scale for loneliness,
we found that the constructs of wisdom and loneliness seemed
to be largely similar in a San Diego sample of middle-aged and
older adults and an age-comparable sample from rural Italy
(Jeste et al., 2020a).
Implications
On average, both women and men have strengths in wisdom
subdomains that can be capitalized upon to promote their well-
being. Helping people identify and lean on these strengths
may promote related aspects of well-being including social
connection and happiness. We also find that both groups
have relative weaknesses that may benefit from individual
and societal intervention to improve well-being and promote
healthy living, including the growing set of positive psychiatry
interventions. Consistent with past literature, we find a difference
in compassion between women and men. There are a number of
compassion interventions including compassion-focused therapy
(Kirby et al., 2017). We also found that women scored higher in
self-reflection than men. Engagement in most therapies promotes
self-reflection and insight, making it a useful approach for those
looking to strengthen these subdomains. Additionally, spiritual
and non-therapy-based mindfulness practices may also promote
insight. We found that men are higher in decisiveness than
women. It is worth adding that the SD-WISE is unique in
being validated as a wisdom scale with decisiveness as one of its
major components. Intervention strategies like problem-solving
therapy (Bell and D’Zurilla, 2009) may improve decisiveness and
well-being. Similarly, this study is the first to report that men are
higher in emotional regulation than women; mindfulness-based
interventions including mindfulness-based stress reduction can
improve emotion regulation (Guendelman et al., 2017). The
finding of gender differences in components of wisdom suggests
that assessing relative strengths and weaknesses in wisdom
subdomains at the individual level may be helpful in guiding
treatment planning across groups. However, our results did not
find evidence that these varying wisdom profiles between women
and men impacted the relationship between wisdom and other
constructs typically targeted by positive psychiatry interventions,
like resilience and optimism. One possible implication is that
tailoring positive psychiatry intervention to individual wisdom
profiles may be an effective strategy to improving these other,
consistently associated constructs. Public health initiatives that
target key subdomains among subgroups may be helpful to
promote wellness.
DATA AVAILABILITY STATEMENT
The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be
made available by the authors, without undue reservation.
ETHICS STATEMENT
The studies involving human participants were reviewed and
approved by the University of California, San Diego Human
Research Protections Program. Written informed consent for
participation was not required for this study in accordance with
the national legislation and the institutional requirements.
AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
ET, BP, EL, and DJ conceptualized the study. ET completed the
initial analyses with conceptual support from DJ and conceptual
and pragmatic support from T-CW, MT, and XT, wrote the first
draft of the manuscript, and made the first draft of the tables
and figures. RD provided database management and analytic
support. All authors contributed to revisions of the manuscript,
tables, and figures.
FUNDING
This work was supported in part by the Veterans Affairs
Rehabilitation Research and Development grant 5IK2RX003079-
02 (PI: ET), NIMH R01 MH120201 (PI: BP), NIMH
K23MH119375-01 (PI: EL), and Stein Institute for Research on
Aging (Director: DJ). This study does not represent the views of
the United States Federal Government.
SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL
The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online
at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.
769294/full#supplementary-material
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Treichler et al. Wisdom and Gender
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Conflict of Interest: The authors declare that the research was conducted in the
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Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 10 February 2022 | Volume 12 | Article 769294
Article
Background: Recovery-promoting and occupation-oriented interventions for people with schizophrenia who receive in-patient services are scarcely investigated, limiting our understanding of the factors affecting intervention effectiveness and hindering occupational inclusion. Aims: To investigate the impact of contextual factors on the effectiveness of 'Occupational Connections' (OC) - occupational intervention for in-patient psychiatric settings. Materials and methods: Quasi-experimental, single-blind study compared between inpatients with schizophrenia participating in OC (N = 14) and those receiving treatment as usual only (N = 16) on primary outcomes of participation dimensions and recovery-orientation of the service, and on secondary outcomes of cognition, symptom severity, and functional capacity. Results: Participation in OC in a new context appears to contribute to improvement in cognitive fluency and flexibility, schizophrenia symptoms, and functional capacity (-2.8<t < 4.32, p < 0.05) with no improvement in the participation dimensions (-1.36<t < 1.36, p > 0.05) or reduction (-2.25<t < 3.74, p < 0.05). The pattern of change in primary and secondary outcomes in a new context was distinct from previous reports on OC effectiveness. Conclusions and significance: These findings suggest the impact of contextual factors on OC effectiveness. Personal participants' factors, institutional features, clinician characteristics, and intervention qualities should be considered in the process of the OC further development, evidence building, and clinical implementation to ensure optimal intervention results.
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Background Aging is associated with numerous stressors that negatively impact older adults’ well-being. Resilience improves ability to cope with stressors and can be enhanced in older adults. Senior housing communities are promising settings to deliver positive psychiatry interventions due to rising resident populations and potential impact of delivering interventions directly in the community. However, few intervention studies have been conducted in these communities. We present a pragmatic stepped-wedge trial of a novel psychological group intervention intended to improve resilience among older adults in senior housing communities. Design A pragmatic modified stepped-wedge trial design. Setting Five senior housing communities in three states in the US. Participants Eighty-nine adults over age 60 years residing in independent living sector of senior housing communities. Intervention Raise Your Resilience, a manualized 1-month group intervention that incorporated savoring, gratitude, and engagement in value-based activities, administered by unlicensed residential staff trained by researchers. There was a 1-month control period and a 3-month post-intervention follow-up. Measurements Validated self-report measures of resilience, perceived stress, well-being, and wisdom collected at months 0 (baseline), 1 (pre-intervention), 2 (post-intervention), and 5 (follow-up). Results Treatment adherence and satisfaction were high. Compared to the control period, perceived stress and wisdom improved from pre-intervention to post-intervention, while resilience improved from pre-intervention to follow-up. Effect sizes were small in this sample, which had relatively high baseline resilience. Physical and mental well-being did not improve significantly, and no significant moderators of change in resilience were identified. Conclusion This study demonstrates feasibility of conducting pragmatic intervention trials in senior housing communities. The intervention resulted in significant improvement in several measures despite ceiling effects. The study included several features that suggest high potential for its implementation and dissemination across similar communities nationally. Future studies are warranted, particularly in samples with lower baseline resilience or in assisted living facilities.
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This article presents a measure of compassion for others called the Compassion Scale (CS), which is based on Neff’s theoretical model of self-compassion. Compassion was operationalized as experiencing kindness, a sense of common humanity, mindfulness, and lessened indifference toward the suffering of others. Study 1 (n = 465) describes the development of potential scale items and the final 16 CS items chosen based on results from analyses using bifactor exploratory structural equation modeling. Study 2 (n = 510) cross-validates the CS in a second student sample. Study 3 (n = 80) establishes test–retest reliability. Study 4 (n = 1,394) replicates results with a community sample, while Study 5 (n = 172) replicates results with a sample of meditators. Study 6 (n = 913) examines the finalized version of the CS in a community sample. Evidence regarding reliability, discriminant, convergent, construct, and known-groups validity for the CS is provided.
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Phoenix et al. (1959) reported that treating pregnant guinea pigs with testosterone had enduring effects on the sex-related behavior of their female offspring . Since then, similar enduring effects of early testosterone exposure have been found in other species, including humans, and for other behaviors that show average sex differences. In humans, the affected outcomes include gender identity, sexual orientation, and children's sex-typical play behavior. The evidence linking early testosterone exposure to sex-typed play is particularly robust, and sex-typed play is also influenced by many other factors, including socialization by parents and peers and self-socialization, based on cognitive understanding of gender. In addition to influencing behavior, testosterone and hormones produced from testosterone affect mammalian brain structure. Studies using human autopsy material have found some sex differences in the human brain similar to those seen in other species, and have reported that some brain sex differences correlate with sexual orientation or gender identity, although the causes of these brain/behavior relationships are unclear. Studies that have imaged the living human brain have found only a small number of sex differences, and these differences are generally small in magnitude. In addition, they have not been linked to robust psychological or behavioral sex differences. Future research might benefit from improved imaging technology, and attention to other brain characteristics. In addition, it might usefully explore how different types of factors, such as early testosterone exposure and parental socialization, work together in the developmental system that produces sex/gender differences in human brain and behavior.
Article
Objective: Wisdom has gained increasing interest among researchers as a personality trait relevant to well-being and mental health. We previously reported development of a new 24-item San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE), with good to excellent psychometric properties, comprised of six subscales: pro-social behaviors, emotional regulation, self-reflection (insight), tolerance for divergent values (acceptance of uncertainty), decisiveness, and social advising. There is controversy about whether spirituality is a marker of wisdom. The present cross-sectional study sought to address that question by developing a new SD-WISE subscale of spirituality and examining its associations with various relevant measures. Methods: Data were collected from a national-level sample of 1,786 community-dwelling adults age 20-82 years, as part of an Amazon M-Turk cohort. Participants completed the 24-item SD-WISE along with several subscales of a commonly used Brief Multidimensional Measure of Religiousness/Spirituality, along with validated scales for well-being, resilience, happiness, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and social network. Results: Using latent variable models, we developed a Spirituality subscale, which demonstrated acceptable psychometric properties including a unidimensional factor structure and good reliability. Spirituality correlated positively with age and was higher in women than in men. The expanded 28-item, 7-subscale SD-WISE total score (called the Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index or JTWI) demonstrated acceptable psychometric properties. The Spirituality subscale was positively correlated with good mental health and well-being, and negatively correlated with poor mental health. However, compared to other components of wisdom, the Spirituality factor showed weaker (i.e., small-to-medium vs. medium-to-large) association with the SD-WISE higher-order Wisdom factor (JTWI). Conclusion: Similar to other components as well as overall wisdom, spirituality is significantly associated with better mental health and well-being, and may add to the predictive utility of the total wisdom score. Spirituality is, however, a weaker contributor to overall wisdom than components like pro-social behaviors and emotional regulation. Longitudinal studies of larger and more diverse samples are needed to explore mediation effects of these constructs on well-being and health.
Article
Objectives: There has been growing research interest in loneliness and wisdom in recent decades, but no cross-cultural comparisons of these constructs using standardized rating measures in older adults, especially the oldest-old. This was a cross-sectional study of loneliness and wisdom comparing middle-aged and oldest-old adults in Cilento, Italy and San Diego, United States. Method: We examined loneliness and wisdom, using the UCLA Loneliness Scale Version 3 (UCLA-3) and San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE), respectively, in four subject groups: adults aged 50-65 and those ≥90 years from Cilento, Italy (N = 212 and 47, respectively) and San Diego, California, USA (N = 138 and 85, respectively). Results: After controlling for education, there were no significant group differences in levels of loneliness, while on SD-WISE the Cilento ≥90 group had lower scores compared to the other three groups. There was a strong inverse correlation between loneliness and wisdom in each of the four subject groups. Loneliness was negatively associated while wisdom was positively associated with general health, sleep quality, and happiness in most groups, with varying levels of significance. Conclusion: These results largely support cross-cultural validity of the constructs of loneliness and wisdom, and extend previous findings of strong inverse correlations between these two entities. Loneliness has become a growing public health problem, and the results of our study suggest that wisdom could be a protective factor against loneliness, although alternative explanations are also possible. Research on interventions to reduce loneliness by enhancing wisdom in older adults is needed.
Article
Importance Wisdom is a neurobiological personality trait made up of specific components, including prosocial behaviors, emotional regulation, and spirituality. It is associated with greater well-being and happiness. Objective To evaluate the effectiveness of interventions to enhance individual components of wisdom. Data Sources MEDLINE and PsycINFO databases were searched for articles published through December 31, 2018. Study Eligibility Criteria Randomized clinical trials that sought to enhance a component of wisdom, used published measures to assess that component, were published in English, had a minimum sample size of 40 participants, and presented data that enabled computation of effect sizes were included in this meta-analysis. Data Extraction and Synthesis Random-effect models were used to calculate pooled standardized mean differences (SMDs) for each wisdom component and random-effects meta-regression to assess heterogeneity of studies. Main Outcomes and Measures Improvement in wisdom component using published measures. Results Fifty-seven studies (N = 7096 participants) met review criteria: 29 for prosocial behaviors, 13 for emotional regulation, and 15 for spirituality. Study samples included people with psychiatric or physical illnesses and from the community. Of the studies, 27 (47%) reported significant improvement with medium to large effect sizes. Meta-analysis revealed significant pooled SMDs for prosocial behaviors (23 studies; pooled SMD, 0.43 [95% CI, 0.22-0.3]; P = .02), emotional regulation (12 studies; pooled SMD, 0.67 [95% CI, 0.21-1.12]; P = .004), and spirituality (12 studies; pooled SMD, 1.00 [95% CI, 0.41-1.60]; P = .001). Heterogeneity of studies was considerable for all wisdom components. Publication bias was present for prosocial behavior and emotional regulation studies; after adjusting for it, the pooled SMD for prosocial behavior remained significant (SMD, 0.4 [95% CI, 0.16-0.78]; P = .003). Meta-regression analysis found that effect sizes did not vary by wisdom component, although for trials on prosocial behaviors, large effect sizes were associated with older mean participant age (β, 0.08 [SE, 0.04]), and the reverse was true for spirituality trials (β, −0.13 [SE, 0.04]). For spirituality interventions, higher-quality trials had larger effect sizes (β, 4.17 [SE, 1.07]), although the reverse was true for prosocial behavior trials (β, −0.91 [SE 0.44]). Conclusions and Relevance Interventions to enhance spirituality, emotional regulation, and prosocial behaviors are effective in a proportion of people with mental or physical illnesses and from the community. The modern behavioral epidemics of loneliness, suicide, and opioid abuse point to a growing need for wisdom-enhancing interventions to promote individual and societal well-being.
Article
Transgender persons identify with a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth. Although describing oneself as transgender is not a new phenomenon, media attention has lately been increasing exponentially, thanks to progressive changes in laws and change in societal attitudes. These changes also allow more people nowadays to (openly) identify as transgender and/or seek gender-affirming treatment. However, simultaneously, not much is presently understood about the underlying neurobiology, and specifically the brain structure and brain function of transgender persons. One major question in neuroimaging and neuroscience has been to determine whether, at the brain level, transgender people resemble more their gender identity, their sex assigned at birth, or have a unique neural profile. Although the evidence is presently inconsistent, it suggests that while the brain structure, at least before hormonal treatment, is more similar to sex assigned at birth, it may shift with hormonal treatment. By contrast, on “sex-stereotypical tasks,” brain function may already be more similar to gender identity in transgender persons, also before receiving gender-affirming hormone treatment. However, studies continue to be limited by small sample sizes and new initiatives are needed to further elucidate the neurobiology of a ‘brain gender’ (sex-dimorphic change according to one’s gender). Keywords: cross-sex hormones; gender; magnetic resonance imaging; neurobiology; trans
Article
Objective: Older adults are at a high risk for loneliness, which impacts their health, well-being, and longevity. While related to social isolation, loneliness is a distinct, internally experienced, distressing feeling. The present qualitative study sought to identify characteristics of loneliness in older adults living independently within a senior housing community, which is typically designed to reduce social isolation. Method: Semi-structured qualitative interviews regarding the experience of loneliness, risk factors, and ways to combat it were conducted with 30 older adults, ages 65–92 years. The interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and coded using a grounded theory analytic approach based on coding, consensus, co-occurrence, and comparison. Results: Three main themes with multiple subthemes are described: (A) Risk and Protective factors for loneliness: age-associated losses, lack of social skills or abilities, and protective personality traits; (B) Experience of loneliness: Sadness and lack of meaning as well as Lack of motivation; and (C) Coping strategies to prevent or overcome loneliness: acceptance of aging, compassion, seeking companionship, and environment enables socialization. Discussion: Despite living within a communal setting designed to reduce social isolation, many older adults described feeling lonely in stark negative terms, attributing it to aging-associated losses or lack of social skills and abilities. However, interviewees also reported positive personal qualities and actions to prevent or cope with loneliness, several of which mirrored specific components of wisdom. The results support the reported inverse relationship between loneliness and wisdom and suggest a potential role for wisdom-enhancing interventions to reduce and prevent loneliness in older populations.