The concept of wisdom is ancient and deeply embedded in the cultural history of humanity. However, only since 1980s have psychologists begun to study it scientifically. Taking a culturally and philosophically informed perspective, this article integrates insights from the quantitative science of wisdom. Analysis of epistemological traditions and research on folk theories of wisdom suggest cultural similarities in the domain of cognition (e.g., wisdom as reasoning ability and knowledge). These similarities can be contrasted with cultural differences concerning folk-theoretical affective and prosocial themes of wisdom, as well as expression of various wisdom-related themes, rooted in distinct sociocultural and ecological environments. Empirical evidence indicates that wisdom is an individually and culturally malleable construct, consistent with an emerging constructionist account of wisdom and its development. Future research can benefit from integration of ecological and cultural-historical factors for the meaning of wisdom and its expression.
Igor Grossmann and Franki Kung
Various self-concepts constitute major keywords in both psychological science and liberal political discourse. They have been central to psychology’s public-facing, policy-oriented role in the United States, dating back to the mid-19th century. Psychologists’ articulations of self-concept include an understanding of the individual, society, and the interventions needed to augment them both. Psychologists’ early enthusiasm for self-esteem has given way to competing concepts of the individual, namely self-regulation and self-control. Self-esteem in a modern sense coalesced out of the deprivation of the Great Depression and the political crises it provoked. The fate of self-esteem became tied to the capacities of the liberal welfare state to improve the psychic capacities of its citizens, in order to render them both more equal under the law and more productive in their daily existence. Western democracies, especially the United States, hit peak self-esteem in early 1990s. Since then, psychologists lost faith in the capacity of giving away self-worth to improve society. Instead, psychologists in the 21st century preached a neo-Victorian gospel of self-reliance. At the very historical juncture when social mobility became more difficult, when inherited social inequality became more entrenched, psychologists abandoned their Keynesian model of human capital and embraced its neoliberal counterpart.
This historical overview of the concepts of harmony in Chinese culture situates the topic in the ecological context of a strong-ties society that fosters a type of rationality that privileges symmetry over asymmetry. Analysis of the discourse of harmony focuses on the texts of two native schools of thought—Confucianism and Taoism—and briefly mentions Buddhism (a religion imported from India). The modern history of harmony has just begun but is already portentous. The turbulent course of China’s rapid modernization suggests the possibility that as China transitions from a strong-ties society to the weak-ties global market, harmony may be encountering, for the first time, contradictions that defy harmonization. Whatever the future holds for the Chinese legacy of harmony, its contribution to the happiness and well-being of the individuals in their intimate relationship with self and others is likely to remain unchallenged.
Li Chu, Yang Fang, Vivian Hiu-Ling Tsang, and Helene H. Fung
Cognitive processing of social and nonsocial information changes with age. These processes range from the ones that serve “mere” cognitive functions, such as recall strategies and reasoning, to those that serve functions that pertain to self-regulation and relating to others. However, aging and the development of social cognition unfold in different cultural contexts, which may assume distinct social norms and values. Thus, the resulting age-related differences in cognitive and social cognitive processes may differ across cultures. On the one hand, biological aging could render age-related differences in social cognition universal; on the other hand, culture may play a role in shaping some age-related differences. Indeed, many aspects of cognition and social cognition showed different age and culture interactions, and this makes the study of these phenomena more complex. Future aging research on social cognition should take cultural influences into consideration.
Joseph A. Mikels and Nathaniel A. Young
The adult life span is characterized as a time of divergent trajectories. It is a time of compounding losses (such as physical, sensory, and cognitive declines) and is also a time of surprising growth (such as improvements in well-being and emotion regulation). These divergent trajectories present theorists with the paradox of aging: in the face of accumulating losses, how is it that as people age, they generally feel good and experience greater well-being? Theorists have grappled with this paradox and have focused on how motivational, cognitive, control, and social factors impact emotional development across the adult life span. These foundational theories have paved the way to a deeper understanding of adult life-span development, but they do not draw as deeply from theories in affective science. Some of the latest perspectives on emotion and aging offer integrative views, such as how older adults may experience different discrete emotion (i.e., anger versus sadness) from an evolutionary functional perspective. Other perspectives consider how an array of appraisal processes may change across adulthood (such as shifts in evaluations of self-control versus other-control for younger versus older adults). These newer approaches dig deeper into mechanistic explanations and underscore the need for greater theoretical integration. Later life is clearly a time of increased well-being, but the field is only on the cusp of understanding the mysteries of emotional experience in later life.
Eric L. Stocks and David A. Lishner
The term empathy has been used as a label for a broad range of phenomena, including feeling what another person is feeling, understanding another person’s point of view, and imagining oneself in another person’s situation. However, perhaps the most widely researched phenomenon that goes by this label involves an other-oriented emotional state that is congruent with the perceived welfare of another person. The feelings associated with empathy include sympathy, tenderness, and warmth toward the other person. Other variations of empathic emotions have been investigated too, including empathic joy, empathic embarrassment, and empathic anger. The term altruism has also been used as a label for a broad range of phenomena, including any type of helping behavior, personality traits associated with helpful persons, and biological influences that spur protection of genetically related others. However, a particularly fruitful research tradition has focused on altruism as a motivational state with the ultimate goal of protecting or promoting the welfare of a valued other. For example, the empathy–altruism hypothesis claims that empathy (construed as an other-oriented emotional state) evokes altruism (construed as a motivational state). Empathy and altruism, regardless of how they are construed, have important consequences for understanding human behavior in general, and for understanding social relationships and well-being in particular.