Can Seven Questions Determine How Wise You Are?

Summary: Wisdom is strongly and positively associated with resilience, happiness, and mental well-being, and negatively correlated with loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

Source: UCSD

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that an abbreviated, seven-item scale can help determine with high validity a person’s level of wisdom, a potentially modifiable personality trait that has been shown to have a strong association to well-being. 

The study’s researchers had previously developed the 28-item San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE-28), which has been used in large national and international studies, biological research and clinical trials to evaluate wisdom. 

But in a study published in International Psychogeriatrics, researchers found that a shortened seven-item version (SD-WISE-7 or Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index), was comparable and reliable.

“Wisdom measures are increasingly being used to study factors that impact mental health and optimal aging. We wanted to test if a list of only seven items could provide valuable information to test wisdom,” said senior author Dilip V. Jeste, MD, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine. 

Past studies have shown that wisdom is comprised of seven components: self-reflection, pro-social behaviors (such as empathy, compassion and altruism), emotional regulation, acceptance of diverse perspectives, decisiveness, social advising (such as giving rational and helpful advice to others) and spirituality.

The latest study surveyed 2,093 participants, ages 20 to 82, through the online crowdsourcing platform Amazon Mechanical Turk. 

The seven statements, selected from SD-WISE-28, relate to the seven components of wisdom and are rated on a 1 to 5 scale, from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Examples of the statements include “I remain calm under pressure” and “I avoid situations where I know my help will be needed.”

This shows a man surrounded by question marks
Additionally, the SD-WISE-7 was found to strongly and positively correlate with resilience, happiness and mental well-being and strongly and negatively correlate with loneliness, depression and anxiety. Image is in the public domain

“Shorter doesn’t mean less valid,” said Jeste. “We selected the right type of questions to get important information that not only contributes to the advancement of science but also supports our previous data that wisdom correlates with health and longevity.”  

Additionally, the SD-WISE-7 was found to strongly and positively correlate with resilience, happiness and mental well-being and strongly and negatively correlate with loneliness, depression and anxiety. 

“There are evidence-based interventions to increase levels of specific components of wisdom, which would help reduce loneliness and promote overall well-being,” said Jeste. 

“Like the COVID-19 vaccine protects us from the novel coronavirus, wisdom can aid in protecting us from loneliness. Thus, we can potentially help end a behavioral pandemic of loneliness, suicides and opioid abuse that has been going on for the last 20 years.”

Next steps include genetic, biological, psychosocial and cultural studies of large numbers of diverse populations to assess wisdom, as well as various factors related to mental, physical and cognitive health in people across the lifespan. 

“We need wisdom for surviving and thriving in life. Now, we have a list of questions that take less than a couple of minutes to answer that can be put into clinical practice to try to help individuals,” said Jeste. 

About this psychology research news

Author: Scott LaFee
Source: UCSD
Contact: Scott LaFee – UCSD
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Abbreviated San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE-7) and Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index (JTWI)” by Dilip V. Jeste et al. International Psychogeriatrics


Abbreviated San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE-7) and Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index (JTWI)


Wisdom is a personality trait comprising seven components: self-reflection, pro-social behaviors, emotional regulation, acceptance of diverse perspectives, decisiveness, social advising, and spirituality. Wisdom, a potentially modifiable trait, is strongly associated with well-being. We have published a validated 28-item San Diego Wisdom Scale, the SD-WISE-28. Brief scales are necessary for use in large population-based studies and in clinical practice. The present study aimed to create an abbreviated 7-item version of the SD-WISE.


Participants included 2093 people, aged 20-82 years, recruited and surveyed through the online crowdsourcing platform Amazon Mechanical Turk. The participants’ mean age was 46 years, with 55% women. Participants completed the SD-WISE-28 as well as validation scales for various positive and negative constructs. Psychometric analyses (factor analysis and item response theory) were used to select one item from each of the seven SD-WISE-28 subscales.


We selected a combination of items that produced acceptable unidimensional model fit and good reliability (ω = 0.74). Item statistics suggested that all seven items were strong indicators of wisdom, although the association was weakest for spirituality. Analyses indicated that the 28-item and 7-item SD-WISE are both very highly correlated (r = 0.92) and produce a nearly identical pattern of correlations with demographic and validity variables.


The SD-WISE-7, and its derived Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index (JTWI) score, balances reliability and brevity for research applications.

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    1. This is a bit hard to define for those who aren’t ‘believers’. I assume by ‘believers’ you mean those who believe in a codified religion/faith of some sort, with a recognizable culture, rulebook (or cookbook), identifiable symbolism and characteristics that allow them to identify “us” and “not us”. Such things make it easy; enough checkboxes and you ‘belong’. This is often accompanied by feelings that the believer has a monopoly on spirituality and faith.

      That’s nonsense. Spirituality is the sense (and belief) that there is more to life as a sentient being than what the five ( or six, or however many)senses present, more to the universe than what is measurable, more to consciousness than electrochemical brain activity, and more to our existence than the physical -or material – world. The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. Spirituality includes the belief, either emotional or ‘rational’, that existence is meaningful, whether you think you know what that meaning is or not.

      So of course it’s ‘available’ to anyone, with or without a formalized structure of religion or Belief. Some religions & structured beliefs actually work against spirituality.

      Some organized belief systems deal with wisdom and spirituality slightly differently than what is presented in this discussion of the ‘wisdom scales’. This may be more accessible for you. Here it is: Wisdom is always a pairing with compassion. Without compassion there’s no wisdom, there’s just information. Without wisdom, there’s no compassion, there’s just empathy or pity. Spirituality is a major part of what allows us to both comprehend and to *do* this transformation.

      *** You do not possess spirituality; it’s rather the other way round.

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