“It was the best worst day of my life”: Narrative Content, Structure, and Process in Wisdom-Fostering Life Event Memories

“It was the best worst day of my life”: Narrative Content, Structure, and Process in... Abstract Objectives The purpose of this study was to examine laypeople’s subjective understanding of their own wisdom development. To do this, autobiographical memories of wisdom-fostering life events were examined for (a) life-event characteristics, and (b) self-reflective processes believed to support growth in wisdom through life experience. Methods Midlife adults (N = 482) provided a written autobiographical memory of a wisdom-fostering life event. Memories were content analyzed by expert coders for life-event characteristics (i.e., fundamentality, emotional valence, cultural normativity, and specific event types) and self-reflective processes (i.e., narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth). Participants also completed self-report and performance measures of wisdom. Results Wisdom-fostering life events tended to be fundamental to life, culturally non-normative, and emotionally negative. Participants frequently reported developing wisdom from relationship events (e.g., interpersonal conflict, divorce) and life-threatening/mortality events (e.g., death, serious illness). Wisdom was positively associated with reconstructive (i.e., narrative coherence) and analytical (i.e., meaning-making, personal growth) components of self-reflection. Self-reflective processes varied as a function of life-event characteristics. Discussion This study emphasizes the role of both persons and environments in the development of wisdom, and highlights the importance of self-reflection as a mechanism through which wisdom is constructed from life experience. Autobiographical memory, Life experience, Narrative, Self-reflection, Wisdom The ancient concept of wisdom has received diverse treatment within the psychological sciences. On the one hand, wisdom has been viewed as a constellation of mature personality characteristics, involving attributes like self-transcendence, compassion for others, and a deep interest in the truth (e.g., Ardelt, 2003; Levenson, Jennings, Aldwin, & Shiraishi, 2005). On the other hand, wisdom has been defined as the exceptional application of experience-based knowledge, judgment, and skill to fundamental life matters, either concerning life in general (i.e., general wisdom; Baltes & Smith, 2008) or one’s own life (i.e., personal wisdom; Staudinger, 2013). These conceptual definitions imply distinct measurement models, ranging from self-report scales to performance tasks, respectively. Developmentally speaking, both laypeople (Glück & Bluck, 2011) and experts (Jeste et al., 2010) report that wisdom is constructed from life experience. According to the MORE Life Experience Model (Glück & Bluck, 2013), wisdom develops through the dynamic interplay of fundamental life challenges and five personal resources (i.e., mastery, openness, reflectivity, emotion regulation, empathy). The present study contributes to this literature by (a) identifying types of the life experiences that people consider to be wisdom fostering, and (b) examining one particular MORE resource, namely, reflectivity, which we argue is particularly essential to the development of wisdom through life experience. Grist for the Wisdom Mill: Life Experiences that Foster Wisdom “Life experience” is a broad and somewhat vague term. In many cases, life experience is used as a synonym for life insight, knowledge, or expertise—to say that someone has “life experience” is to imply that they are “experienced at life.” Here, the cause and effect are confounded. To clarify our usage of this term, we view life experience as the potential catalyst or source material for growth in wisdom (Baltes & Staudinger, 1993; Glück & Bluck, 2013). In this study, we specifically define life experience as the naturally-occurring events that people encounter over the course of their life (for an alternative treatment of life experience, i.e., professional specialization, see Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes, 1992). With this in mind, we hereafter use the terms life experience and life events interchangeably. Life events come in many varieties (e.g., discrete and prolonged, emotionally positive and negative, mundane and momentous), and surely not all of them are expected to influence wisdom development. Conveniently, diverse literatures point to three characteristics that differentiate life events, all of which are theoretically relevant to wisdom development, but understudied from an empirical standpoint. Fundamentality According to Pillemer (2001), “At rare moments in every life, the ongoing stream of mundane daily occurrences is punctuated by distinctive, circumscribed, highly emotional and influential episodes.” (p. 123; see also King & Hicks, 2009). Fundamental events may carry extended psychological effects, such as the premature death of a loved one or a bitter divorce, compared to mundane events (e.g., watching a movie, getting gas for the car), which are unlikely to disrupt a person’s expectations of life and, consequently, fail to induce the type of critical life- or self-reflection that might lead to wisdom. In their ontogenetic model of wisdom, researchers from the Berlin wisdom paradigm argued that wisdom is facilitated by the experience of fundamental life events, which, when combined with other favorable conditions, can lead to deeper insight, knowledge, and judgment about life (e.g., Baltes & Smith, 2008; Baltes & Staudinger, 1993). Cultural Normativity Culturally normative events are strongly related to chronological age and tend to occur in highly similar ways with respect to timing and duration for most individuals in a culture (Baltes, Reese, & Lipsitt, 1980). These events include developmental milestones like puberty, graduating from high school, marriage, and retirement. Developmental researchers studying autobiographical memory have referred to this uniform sequence of events as the cultural life script (e.g., Bohn & Bernsten, 2008; Rubin & Bernsten, 2003), the cultural concept of biography (Habermas, 2007; Habermas & Bluck, 2000), or the biographical master narrative (McLean & Syed, 2015; see also Arnett, 2016). The cultural life script is a stereotypical, arguably idealized, version of a life. Highly normative events come with prepackaged cultural meaning, making them easy to integrate into one’s ongoing sense of self. Yet many people’s lives deviate from the script in important ways. Events that violate the cultural life script (e.g., divorce, job loss, debilitating accident or injury) may require effortful self-reflective processing in order to make sense of them (e.g., McLean et al., 2017; McLean, Shucard, & Syed, 2017), which might present an opportunity for growth in wisdom. Emotional Valence When asked to report life events that involved wise thought, advice, or action, both children (König & Glück, 2012) and adults (Bluck & Glück, 2004) most frequently recalled events that were negative in valence (e.g., interpersonal conflicts, serious accidents). When asked about how wisdom develops, Glück and Bluck (2011) found that laypeople rated “through enduring and overcoming highly negative events” and “through confronting human mortality” as two of the most important experiential determinants of wisdom. Typically, adversity shatters a person’s “assumptive world” (Janoff-Bulman, 1992; Kauffman, 2002), compelling individuals to re-evaluate taken-for-granted belief systems. In constructivist terms, adversity incites a state of disequilibrium that might necessitate the accommodation of disrupted schemes, producing lasting effects on personality and knowledge structures (Block, 1982; Joseph & Linley, 2005). King and Hicks (2009) found that individuals were more likely to construct new meaning (i.e., lessons, insights) from emotionally negative life events than positive events (see also McLean & Thorne, 2003; Webster & Deng, 2015). Under optimal circumstances, these newly constructed schemes represent elevated levels of wisdom. Psychological Processes that Support Growth in Wisdom Through Life Experience Life experience interacts with personal resources to explain how individuals optimally gain wisdom from the past (Glück & Bluck, 2013). Specifically, reflection has featured prominently in psychological models and subjective theories of wisdom (Ardelt, 2003; Bluck & Glück, 2005; Glück & Bluck, 2011; Jeste et al., 2010; Webster, 2007). Staudinger and colleagues suggested that reflection on autobiographical experiences (i.e., self-reflection) should lead to both personal and general wisdom, whereas reflection on other people’s life experiences or on life in general (i.e., life reflection) should lead to general wisdom but not necessarily personal wisdom (Mickler & Staudinger, 2008; Staudinger, 2013; Staudinger, Dörner, & Mickler, 2005). As Staudinger (2013) puts it, “It is much more difficult to obtain insight into one’s own life than into the difficulties and problems of others.” (p. 7). Reconstructive and Analytical Components of Self-Reflection Staudinger (2001) proposed a model of self-reflection that was argued to facilitate the development of wisdom, encompassing two components: (a) “remembering” or reconstructing an event in one’s memory, and (b) “further analysis” or explaining, interpreting, and evaluating the significance of the event. Providing preliminary support for this model, Staudinger (2001) showed that in response to the prompt, “What exactly do you do when you think back over your life?” (p. 157), wisdom nominees were more likely to emphasize analytical self-reflection (i.e., explanation, evaluation) than matched control participants, who, in contrast, were more likely to report engaging in reconstructive self-reflection (i.e., simple reminiscence). Narrative psychologists have provided a framework for assessing individual differences in the quality of event reconstruction and analysis (McAdams, 2001; McAdams & McLean, 2013; see also Adler, Lodi-Smith, Philippe, & Houle, 2016). Using standardized coding manuals, narrative psychologists assess content, structure, and process in autobiographical narratives of important life events. Narrative content primarily concerns the subject matter of the narrative, including event characteristics (e.g., Galliher, McLean, & Syed, 2017; Thorne, McLean, & Lawrence, 2004), which we define here as fundamentality, cultural normativity, and emotional valence, as well as the specific event type reported. Narrative structure concerns the composition of the narrative, most typically, how coherent the story is (e.g., Baerger & McAdams, 1999; Habermas & de Silveira, 2008; Reese et al., 2011), and is akin to Staudinger’s reconstructive component. Finally, narrative processing concerns the degree to which an event has been explored and interpreted for deeper meaning and connected back to one’s understanding of the self or world, and is akin to Staudinger’s analytical component. In the present study, we operationalized narrative structure with a multidimensional measure of narrative coherence, and narrative processing with measures of meaning-making and personal growth. Some research has shown that meaning-making and personal growth (i.e., exploratory modes of processing) are more strongly associated with wisdom than other forms of narrative processing that are aimed at positive emotional transformation and closure (i.e., redemptive processing; Webster, Weststrate, Ferrari, Munroe, & Pierce, 2017; Weststrate & Glück, 2017), but so far no research has examined the incremental prediction of wisdom by analytical components of self-reflection (i.e., meaning-making, personal growth) over reconstructive aspects (i.e., narrative coherence). The Current Study In the present study, we first content analyzed wisdom-fostering life event memories for fundamentality, cultural normativity, emotional valence, and event type. Second, we examined qualities of self-reflective processing, with a particular focus on reconstructive and analytical aspects of self-reflection. Third, we examined how self-reflective processing differed as a function of wisdom-fostering event characteristics. Finally, we examined the extent to which properties of wisdom-fostering event memories were related to individual differences in participants’ levels of wisdom. Hypotheses 1. We hypothesized that, on average, wisdom-fostering life events would be highly fundamental, culturally non-normative, and emotionally negative (e.g., divorce, serious illness, job loss). 2. Wiser people would be more likely than others to report fundamental, culturally non-normative, and emotionally negative life events. 3. Wisdom would be positively associated with narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth. 4. Analytical aspects of self-reflection (i.e., meaning-making, personal growth) would incrementally predict variance in wisdom above and beyond reconstructive aspects (i.e., narrative coherence). 5. Levels of narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth would be highest among fundamental, culturally non-normative, and emotionally negative events. Method Participants A large sample of midlife adults was collected from the United States, representing 46 states, through an online crowdsourcing platform (Amazon’s Mechanical Turk; AMT). Participants were invited to complete a 60- to 90-min survey on the topic of “Personality and Life Experiences,” for which they were compensated $4.00 (USD). In order to qualify, participants had to be between the ages of 40 and 65 years. A total of 666 AMT users opened the survey and 521 chose to complete it. Although AMT is a regulated online crowdsourcing platform, we were concerned about participants providing fraudulent responses, specifically where the participant selected the same response option for all items on a multi-item Likert-style questionnaire. To identify fraudulent responses of this nature, we computed standard deviations for all multi-item questionnaire variables. Respondents with standard deviations of 0 on any of these questionnaires were removed due to concerns about potentially compromised data (n = 19). Thus, data from 502 participants was retained for the final sample. In terms of demographics, average participant age was 48.87 (SD = 6.86), 62.9% identified as female, 81.9% identified as white, 61.7% were employed full-time or self-employed, and 95.8% spoke English as their first language (detailed demographic information is provided in the Supplementary Materials). Procedure Participants were directed to a secure website where they completed the online survey. Upon completion, participants were compensated via their AMT account. Measures and Tasks Self-report wisdom Three self-report wisdom questionnaires were collected: Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3DWS; Ardelt, 2003), Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale (SAWS; Webster, 2007), and Adult Self-Transcendence Inventory-Revised (ASTI; Levenson et al., 2005). The 39-item 3D-WS defines wisdom as the integration of cognitive, reflective, and compassionate personality characteristics (Ardelt, 2003). Items are rated on one of two five-point Likert scales (strongly agree to strongly disagree or definitely true of myself to not true of myself). An overall wisdom score was computed by averaging subscales (Cronbach’s α = .90). The 40-item SAWS defines wisdom as the integration of five wisdom facets: critical life experience, reminiscence and reflectiveness, openness, emotion regulation, and humour (Webster, 2007). Each facet is assessed with an 8-item subscale, with items rated on a six-point Likert scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). Items are averaged to form an overall wisdom score (Cronbach’s α = .93). The 28-item ASTI-R defines wisdom as a form of self-transcendence, which entails decreased self-concern and elevated levels of empathy, understanding, spirituality, and connectedness with past and future generations (Levenson et al., 2005). Items are rated on a four-point Likert scale (disagree strongly to agree strongly). All items were averaged to form an overall wisdom score (Cronbach’s α = .90). As a last step, the overall wisdom scores on three self-report questionnaires were standardized and averaged to create a self-report wisdom composite variable. General wisdom performance To assess general wisdom performance, participants responded to the following hypothetical life dilemma used commonly in the Berlin wisdom paradigm: “A 15-year-old girl wants to get married right away. What should one take into consideration and do in such a situation?” In the traditional approach, participants “think aloud” about the dilemma, and their responses are recorded, transcribed, and then scored by expert raters for five aspects of wisdom-related knowledge (Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes, 1994). This approach is extremely resource-taxing and was thus modified for the present study. First, participants responded in writing rather than verbally (see Helson & Srivastava, 2002). Second, written responses were scored by 10 naive judges rather than trained experts. The naive judges were senior undergraduate students enrolled in a research opportunity program. Naive judges were not trained to use a standardized scoring manual, but instead were told to rate how wise the responses were, based on their own subjective wisdom theory, on a six-point bipolar scale from 1 (very unwise) to 6 (very wise). These scores were averaged to create an overall general wisdom performance score. Full instructions for participants are provided in the Supplementary Materials. Inter-rater reliability and interrelations among measures of wisdom are presented in Table 1. The naive rating approach is supported by Staudinger et al. (1992), who found that correlations between wisdom ratings made by naive and trained judges ranged from .41 to .68 (see also Smith & Baltes, 1990). Table 1. Correlation Matrix and Descriptive Statistics for Wisdom Measures, Characteristics of Wisdom-Fostering Event Memories, and Person Characteristics Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Wisdom   1. Self-report wisdom -   2. General wisdom performance .29** -   3. Personal wisdom performance .21** .35** - Narrative characteristics   4. Word count .16** .31** .14** -   5. Contextual coherence .05 .12** .05 .37** -   6. Chronological coherence .13** .17** .15** .49** .44** -   7. Thematic coherence .22** .36** .24** .62** .26** .53** -   8. Global coherence .17** .28** .19** .62** .75** .84** .75** -   9. Meaning-making .10* .24** .20** .36** .06 .15** .46** .28** -  10. Personal growth .16** .26** .24** .11* -.04 .11** .36** .18** .48** - Event characteristics   11. Fundamentality .08 .10* .02 .05 −.01 .01 .07 .03 .09 .20** -   12. Emotional valence −.02 −.02 .07 −.17** −.13** −.19** −.14** −.20** −.20** .00 −.36** -   13. Cultural Normativity −.07 −.06 .05 −.19** −.17** −.19** −.16** −.22** −.16** −.03 −.47** .75** - Person characteristics   14. Age .02 .02 −.05 .03 .08 .09 .01 .08 −.02 −.01 .02 −.02 −.05   15. Age at wisdom-fostering event .05 .05 .00 .07 −.03 −.01 .10* .02 .07 .01 .09* −.04 −.11*   16. Gender −.13** −.20** −.05 −.06 −.05 −.04 −.10* −.08 −.13** −.09 −.16** −.10* −.17** Range (max – min) - 1.20–5.80 1.00–5.50 10–1,688 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–4 0–3 −2–2 −2–2 −2–2 M (SD) - 3.84 (0.79) 4.04 (0.63) 209.26 (159.04) 1.71 (0.80) 1.96 (0.74) 1.67 (0.72) 1.78 (0.59) 2.04 (0.80) 1.73 (0.77) 1.09 (1.07) −.58 (1.19) −.62 (1.22) Inter-rater reliability - .83 .70 - .84 .74 .75 - .81 .84 .86 .91 .89 Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Wisdom   1. Self-report wisdom -   2. General wisdom performance .29** -   3. Personal wisdom performance .21** .35** - Narrative characteristics   4. Word count .16** .31** .14** -   5. Contextual coherence .05 .12** .05 .37** -   6. Chronological coherence .13** .17** .15** .49** .44** -   7. Thematic coherence .22** .36** .24** .62** .26** .53** -   8. Global coherence .17** .28** .19** .62** .75** .84** .75** -   9. Meaning-making .10* .24** .20** .36** .06 .15** .46** .28** -  10. Personal growth .16** .26** .24** .11* -.04 .11** .36** .18** .48** - Event characteristics   11. Fundamentality .08 .10* .02 .05 −.01 .01 .07 .03 .09 .20** -   12. Emotional valence −.02 −.02 .07 −.17** −.13** −.19** −.14** −.20** −.20** .00 −.36** -   13. Cultural Normativity −.07 −.06 .05 −.19** −.17** −.19** −.16** −.22** −.16** −.03 −.47** .75** - Person characteristics   14. Age .02 .02 −.05 .03 .08 .09 .01 .08 −.02 −.01 .02 −.02 −.05   15. Age at wisdom-fostering event .05 .05 .00 .07 −.03 −.01 .10* .02 .07 .01 .09* −.04 −.11*   16. Gender −.13** −.20** −.05 −.06 −.05 −.04 −.10* −.08 −.13** −.09 −.16** −.10* −.17** Range (max – min) - 1.20–5.80 1.00–5.50 10–1,688 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–4 0–3 −2–2 −2–2 −2–2 M (SD) - 3.84 (0.79) 4.04 (0.63) 209.26 (159.04) 1.71 (0.80) 1.96 (0.74) 1.67 (0.72) 1.78 (0.59) 2.04 (0.80) 1.73 (0.77) 1.09 (1.07) −.58 (1.19) −.62 (1.22) Inter-rater reliability - .83 .70 - .84 .74 .75 - .81 .84 .86 .91 .89 Note: Inter-reliability statistics are reported as intraclass correlation coefficients (two-way random effects model, absolute agreement definition). Point-biserial correlations coefficients are presented for gender, with female coded as 0 and male coded as 1. *p < .05. **p < .01. View Large Table 1. Correlation Matrix and Descriptive Statistics for Wisdom Measures, Characteristics of Wisdom-Fostering Event Memories, and Person Characteristics Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Wisdom   1. Self-report wisdom -   2. General wisdom performance .29** -   3. Personal wisdom performance .21** .35** - Narrative characteristics   4. Word count .16** .31** .14** -   5. Contextual coherence .05 .12** .05 .37** -   6. Chronological coherence .13** .17** .15** .49** .44** -   7. Thematic coherence .22** .36** .24** .62** .26** .53** -   8. Global coherence .17** .28** .19** .62** .75** .84** .75** -   9. Meaning-making .10* .24** .20** .36** .06 .15** .46** .28** -  10. Personal growth .16** .26** .24** .11* -.04 .11** .36** .18** .48** - Event characteristics   11. Fundamentality .08 .10* .02 .05 −.01 .01 .07 .03 .09 .20** -   12. Emotional valence −.02 −.02 .07 −.17** −.13** −.19** −.14** −.20** −.20** .00 −.36** -   13. Cultural Normativity −.07 −.06 .05 −.19** −.17** −.19** −.16** −.22** −.16** −.03 −.47** .75** - Person characteristics   14. Age .02 .02 −.05 .03 .08 .09 .01 .08 −.02 −.01 .02 −.02 −.05   15. Age at wisdom-fostering event .05 .05 .00 .07 −.03 −.01 .10* .02 .07 .01 .09* −.04 −.11*   16. Gender −.13** −.20** −.05 −.06 −.05 −.04 −.10* −.08 −.13** −.09 −.16** −.10* −.17** Range (max – min) - 1.20–5.80 1.00–5.50 10–1,688 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–4 0–3 −2–2 −2–2 −2–2 M (SD) - 3.84 (0.79) 4.04 (0.63) 209.26 (159.04) 1.71 (0.80) 1.96 (0.74) 1.67 (0.72) 1.78 (0.59) 2.04 (0.80) 1.73 (0.77) 1.09 (1.07) −.58 (1.19) −.62 (1.22) Inter-rater reliability - .83 .70 - .84 .74 .75 - .81 .84 .86 .91 .89 Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Wisdom   1. Self-report wisdom -   2. General wisdom performance .29** -   3. Personal wisdom performance .21** .35** - Narrative characteristics   4. Word count .16** .31** .14** -   5. Contextual coherence .05 .12** .05 .37** -   6. Chronological coherence .13** .17** .15** .49** .44** -   7. Thematic coherence .22** .36** .24** .62** .26** .53** -   8. Global coherence .17** .28** .19** .62** .75** .84** .75** -   9. Meaning-making .10* .24** .20** .36** .06 .15** .46** .28** -  10. Personal growth .16** .26** .24** .11* -.04 .11** .36** .18** .48** - Event characteristics   11. Fundamentality .08 .10* .02 .05 −.01 .01 .07 .03 .09 .20** -   12. Emotional valence −.02 −.02 .07 −.17** −.13** −.19** −.14** −.20** −.20** .00 −.36** -   13. Cultural Normativity −.07 −.06 .05 −.19** −.17** −.19** −.16** −.22** −.16** −.03 −.47** .75** - Person characteristics   14. Age .02 .02 −.05 .03 .08 .09 .01 .08 −.02 −.01 .02 −.02 −.05   15. Age at wisdom-fostering event .05 .05 .00 .07 −.03 −.01 .10* .02 .07 .01 .09* −.04 −.11*   16. Gender −.13** −.20** −.05 −.06 −.05 −.04 −.10* −.08 −.13** −.09 −.16** −.10* −.17** Range (max – min) - 1.20–5.80 1.00–5.50 10–1,688 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–4 0–3 −2–2 −2–2 −2–2 M (SD) - 3.84 (0.79) 4.04 (0.63) 209.26 (159.04) 1.71 (0.80) 1.96 (0.74) 1.67 (0.72) 1.78 (0.59) 2.04 (0.80) 1.73 (0.77) 1.09 (1.07) −.58 (1.19) −.62 (1.22) Inter-rater reliability - .83 .70 - .84 .74 .75 - .81 .84 .86 .91 .89 Note: Inter-reliability statistics are reported as intraclass correlation coefficients (two-way random effects model, absolute agreement definition). Point-biserial correlations coefficients are presented for gender, with female coded as 0 and male coded as 1. *p < .05. **p < .01. View Large Personal wisdom performance To assess personal wisdom performance, a variation of Mickler and Staudinger’s (2005, 2008) Bremen wisdom paradigm was collected. Rather than solve a hypothetical dilemma, participants were asked about what they thought or did when solving life-related problems from their personal past. Specifically, they were asked to write about a time when they had experienced some sort of a conflict with a close friend. These instructions were modified from the prompt used by Mickler and Staudinger (2008), which asked participants to reflect somewhat generally on how they are as friends. The domain of friendship was kept consistent, but the modified task focused specifically on a conflict situation in order to keep the event type standardized across participants. All other instructions paralleled the general wisdom task exactly. Instructions are included in the Supplementary Materials. Autobiographical memory task Participants provided a written autobiographical memory of wisdom-fostering life event, prompted by the following instructions: Often people report having gained wisdom from significant life experiences. In reflection on life experience, people sometimes learn lessons or gain insights that they consider to be wise. We’d like you to tell us about an event in your life that made you wiser or helped you gain wisdom in some way. It is not necessary that you felt wiser while the event was occurring—it could be that you gained wisdom in reflection on the event, and looking back you now see the event as one that helped you grow in wisdom. If you feel that you have had no wisdom-promoting experiences in your life, then describe a particular episode in your life that comes closer than any other to qualifying as one. Participants were instructed to describe the wisdom-fostering experience in narrative form, and when telling their story, to include information about: what happened, when it happened, and who was involved; what they were thinking, feeling, and wanting at the time; why the experience is a significant event in their life story; and what the event might say about who that person is, were, and might become, and how they have developed over time. Participants reported the age at which their wisdom-fostering event occurred. Narrative coding Twenty-five research assistants were divided into coding groups and trained to score the memories using standard practices (Syed & Nelson, 2015). Overlap in coding group membership was avoided in order to reduce the possible effects of coder bias and thus shared method variance. For each coding system, coders scored the narratives in multiple waves, with reliability computed after each wave in order to assess coder drift. Within each wave, the narratives were randomized across coders, which eliminated order effects. Narrative excerpts are included in the Supplementary Materials. Event type Two coders scored narratives for their focal or primary event—that is, the real-life context, situation, or setting of the narrative. Primary event types were extracted and collapsed into meaningful categories until saturation was reached at seven distinct types, which are listed in Table 2. Two expert coders categorized each event, reaching a satisfactory level of inter-rater reliability (Cohen’s κ = .79). To add nuance, the four highest frequency wisdom-fostering event types—(a) relationship events, (b) life-threatening and mortality events, (c) career events, occupation, and job events, and (d) formal and informal learning experiences—were subsequently scored for event sub-types. Two expert coders took an inductive approach to determining sub-types, paralleling the procedure used for establishing primary event types, and then independently categorized each memory. Event sub-types are presented in Table 3, along with descriptive statistics and inter-rater reliability. All categorization disagreements were resolved using a consensus approach (Syed & Nelson, 2015). Table 2. Descriptive Statistics for Wisdom-Fostering Event Types and Characteristics with Examples Event type Examples Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events Dating, marriage, divorce, interpersonal conflict 156 (31.1) 1.21 (0.94) −.34 (1.30) −.39 (1.35) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events Death, serious illness, accident or injury, physical or sexual assault, natural disaster 138 (27.5) 1.69 (0.63) −1.56 (0.65) −1.61 (0.66) 3. Career, occupation, or job events New job or promotion, job loss or change, passing a qualifying exam, starting a business, retirement 69 (13.7) .76 (0.95) −.31 (0.91) −.12 (0.95) 4. Formal or informal learning events Classroom instruction, independent study, receiving advice or mentorship, psychotherapy 46 (9.2) .33 (1.25) .12 (0.91) .09 (0.91) 5. Recreation, leisure, or short-term travel events Sporting event, entertainment, birthday party, vacation or holiday 17 (3.4) −.57 (0.92) .53 (0.78) .12 (0.35) 6. Sojourn, permanent relocation, or immigration events Student exchange, moving across the country, starting a new life abroad 16 (3.2) 1.23 (0.97) −.52 (1.09) −.58 (0.98) 7. Religious or spiritual events Attending religious service, studying a religious text, meditation retreat, spiritual awakening 15 (3.0) 1.20 (0.75) .27 (0.81) −.27 (1.38) 8. Other or unclassifiable events Going to jail, buying a home 25 (5.0) .32 (1.35) .04 (0.92) −.01 (1.14) Event type Examples Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events Dating, marriage, divorce, interpersonal conflict 156 (31.1) 1.21 (0.94) −.34 (1.30) −.39 (1.35) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events Death, serious illness, accident or injury, physical or sexual assault, natural disaster 138 (27.5) 1.69 (0.63) −1.56 (0.65) −1.61 (0.66) 3. Career, occupation, or job events New job or promotion, job loss or change, passing a qualifying exam, starting a business, retirement 69 (13.7) .76 (0.95) −.31 (0.91) −.12 (0.95) 4. Formal or informal learning events Classroom instruction, independent study, receiving advice or mentorship, psychotherapy 46 (9.2) .33 (1.25) .12 (0.91) .09 (0.91) 5. Recreation, leisure, or short-term travel events Sporting event, entertainment, birthday party, vacation or holiday 17 (3.4) −.57 (0.92) .53 (0.78) .12 (0.35) 6. Sojourn, permanent relocation, or immigration events Student exchange, moving across the country, starting a new life abroad 16 (3.2) 1.23 (0.97) −.52 (1.09) −.58 (0.98) 7. Religious or spiritual events Attending religious service, studying a religious text, meditation retreat, spiritual awakening 15 (3.0) 1.20 (0.75) .27 (0.81) −.27 (1.38) 8. Other or unclassifiable events Going to jail, buying a home 25 (5.0) .32 (1.35) .04 (0.92) −.01 (1.14) Note: Event characteristics were scored on scales ranging from −2 to 2. View Large Table 2. Descriptive Statistics for Wisdom-Fostering Event Types and Characteristics with Examples Event type Examples Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events Dating, marriage, divorce, interpersonal conflict 156 (31.1) 1.21 (0.94) −.34 (1.30) −.39 (1.35) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events Death, serious illness, accident or injury, physical or sexual assault, natural disaster 138 (27.5) 1.69 (0.63) −1.56 (0.65) −1.61 (0.66) 3. Career, occupation, or job events New job or promotion, job loss or change, passing a qualifying exam, starting a business, retirement 69 (13.7) .76 (0.95) −.31 (0.91) −.12 (0.95) 4. Formal or informal learning events Classroom instruction, independent study, receiving advice or mentorship, psychotherapy 46 (9.2) .33 (1.25) .12 (0.91) .09 (0.91) 5. Recreation, leisure, or short-term travel events Sporting event, entertainment, birthday party, vacation or holiday 17 (3.4) −.57 (0.92) .53 (0.78) .12 (0.35) 6. Sojourn, permanent relocation, or immigration events Student exchange, moving across the country, starting a new life abroad 16 (3.2) 1.23 (0.97) −.52 (1.09) −.58 (0.98) 7. Religious or spiritual events Attending religious service, studying a religious text, meditation retreat, spiritual awakening 15 (3.0) 1.20 (0.75) .27 (0.81) −.27 (1.38) 8. Other or unclassifiable events Going to jail, buying a home 25 (5.0) .32 (1.35) .04 (0.92) −.01 (1.14) Event type Examples Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events Dating, marriage, divorce, interpersonal conflict 156 (31.1) 1.21 (0.94) −.34 (1.30) −.39 (1.35) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events Death, serious illness, accident or injury, physical or sexual assault, natural disaster 138 (27.5) 1.69 (0.63) −1.56 (0.65) −1.61 (0.66) 3. Career, occupation, or job events New job or promotion, job loss or change, passing a qualifying exam, starting a business, retirement 69 (13.7) .76 (0.95) −.31 (0.91) −.12 (0.95) 4. Formal or informal learning events Classroom instruction, independent study, receiving advice or mentorship, psychotherapy 46 (9.2) .33 (1.25) .12 (0.91) .09 (0.91) 5. Recreation, leisure, or short-term travel events Sporting event, entertainment, birthday party, vacation or holiday 17 (3.4) −.57 (0.92) .53 (0.78) .12 (0.35) 6. Sojourn, permanent relocation, or immigration events Student exchange, moving across the country, starting a new life abroad 16 (3.2) 1.23 (0.97) −.52 (1.09) −.58 (0.98) 7. Religious or spiritual events Attending religious service, studying a religious text, meditation retreat, spiritual awakening 15 (3.0) 1.20 (0.75) .27 (0.81) −.27 (1.38) 8. Other or unclassifiable events Going to jail, buying a home 25 (5.0) .32 (1.35) .04 (0.92) −.01 (1.14) Note: Event characteristics were scored on scales ranging from −2 to 2. View Large Table 3. Descriptive Statistics for Subtypes of High-Frequency Wisdom-Fostering Events Event type Event sub-type Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events (κ = .73) a. Interpersonal conflict, struggle, or rejection 58 (37.2) .73 (0.90) −.90 (0.56) −.45 (1.01) b. Divorce, separation, or break-up 42 (26.9) 1.68 (0.40) −1.37 (0.53) −1.58 (0.54) c. Becoming a parent or grandparent 29 (18.6) 1.79 (0.61) 1.61 (0.54) .97 (1.34) d. Relationship-building, marriage, or dating 14 (9.0) 1.38 (0.69) 1.05 (0.93) .64 (1.36) e. Other relationship event 13 (8.3) .38 (1.46) −.38 (1.01) −.44 (0.92) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events (κ = .88) a. Death 65 (47.1) 1.91 (0.27) −1.93 (0.21) −1.61 (0.77) b. Serious illness or health concern 33 (23.9) 1.66 (0.55) −1.32 (0.54) −1.72 (0.44) c. Accident, injury, or assault 23 (16.7) 1.30 (1.02) −1.46 (0.53) −1.49 (0.59) d. Addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) 8 (5.8) 1.42 (0.77) −.17 (1.11) −1.33 (0.78) e. Other life-threatening or mortality event 9 (6.5) 1.41 (0.81) −1.19 (0.60) −1.74 (0.46) 3. Career, occupation, or job events (κ = .76) a. Job loss, struggle, or setback 40 (58.0) .87 (0.93) −.96 (0.36) −.60 (0.84) b. Job gain, achievement, or mastery 29 (42.0) .62 (0.99) .59 (0.63) .55 (0.62) 4. Formal and informal learning events (κ = .88) a. Receiving sage advice or mentorship 16 (34.8) .40 (1.03) −.13 (0.91) .08 (0.95) b. Formal education (e.g., classroom instruction) 14 (30.4) .76 (1.30) .45 (0.86) .24 (1.08) c. Self-directed learning (e.g., listening to radio show) 8 (17.4) −.04 (1.67) .54 (0.75) −.13 (0.96) d. Behavioral transgression at school 5 (10.9) −.20 (0.69) −.93 (0.37) −.07 (0.43) e. Other learning experience 3 (6.5) −.22 (1.58) .44 (0.51) .22 (0.19) Event type Event sub-type Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events (κ = .73) a. Interpersonal conflict, struggle, or rejection 58 (37.2) .73 (0.90) −.90 (0.56) −.45 (1.01) b. Divorce, separation, or break-up 42 (26.9) 1.68 (0.40) −1.37 (0.53) −1.58 (0.54) c. Becoming a parent or grandparent 29 (18.6) 1.79 (0.61) 1.61 (0.54) .97 (1.34) d. Relationship-building, marriage, or dating 14 (9.0) 1.38 (0.69) 1.05 (0.93) .64 (1.36) e. Other relationship event 13 (8.3) .38 (1.46) −.38 (1.01) −.44 (0.92) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events (κ = .88) a. Death 65 (47.1) 1.91 (0.27) −1.93 (0.21) −1.61 (0.77) b. Serious illness or health concern 33 (23.9) 1.66 (0.55) −1.32 (0.54) −1.72 (0.44) c. Accident, injury, or assault 23 (16.7) 1.30 (1.02) −1.46 (0.53) −1.49 (0.59) d. Addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) 8 (5.8) 1.42 (0.77) −.17 (1.11) −1.33 (0.78) e. Other life-threatening or mortality event 9 (6.5) 1.41 (0.81) −1.19 (0.60) −1.74 (0.46) 3. Career, occupation, or job events (κ = .76) a. Job loss, struggle, or setback 40 (58.0) .87 (0.93) −.96 (0.36) −.60 (0.84) b. Job gain, achievement, or mastery 29 (42.0) .62 (0.99) .59 (0.63) .55 (0.62) 4. Formal and informal learning events (κ = .88) a. Receiving sage advice or mentorship 16 (34.8) .40 (1.03) −.13 (0.91) .08 (0.95) b. Formal education (e.g., classroom instruction) 14 (30.4) .76 (1.30) .45 (0.86) .24 (1.08) c. Self-directed learning (e.g., listening to radio show) 8 (17.4) −.04 (1.67) .54 (0.75) −.13 (0.96) d. Behavioral transgression at school 5 (10.9) −.20 (0.69) −.93 (0.37) −.07 (0.43) e. Other learning experience 3 (6.5) −.22 (1.58) .44 (0.51) .22 (0.19) Note: Event characteristics were scored on scales ranging from −2 to 2. Inter-rater reliability is presented as Cohen’s kappa (κ). View Large Table 3. Descriptive Statistics for Subtypes of High-Frequency Wisdom-Fostering Events Event type Event sub-type Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events (κ = .73) a. Interpersonal conflict, struggle, or rejection 58 (37.2) .73 (0.90) −.90 (0.56) −.45 (1.01) b. Divorce, separation, or break-up 42 (26.9) 1.68 (0.40) −1.37 (0.53) −1.58 (0.54) c. Becoming a parent or grandparent 29 (18.6) 1.79 (0.61) 1.61 (0.54) .97 (1.34) d. Relationship-building, marriage, or dating 14 (9.0) 1.38 (0.69) 1.05 (0.93) .64 (1.36) e. Other relationship event 13 (8.3) .38 (1.46) −.38 (1.01) −.44 (0.92) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events (κ = .88) a. Death 65 (47.1) 1.91 (0.27) −1.93 (0.21) −1.61 (0.77) b. Serious illness or health concern 33 (23.9) 1.66 (0.55) −1.32 (0.54) −1.72 (0.44) c. Accident, injury, or assault 23 (16.7) 1.30 (1.02) −1.46 (0.53) −1.49 (0.59) d. Addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) 8 (5.8) 1.42 (0.77) −.17 (1.11) −1.33 (0.78) e. Other life-threatening or mortality event 9 (6.5) 1.41 (0.81) −1.19 (0.60) −1.74 (0.46) 3. Career, occupation, or job events (κ = .76) a. Job loss, struggle, or setback 40 (58.0) .87 (0.93) −.96 (0.36) −.60 (0.84) b. Job gain, achievement, or mastery 29 (42.0) .62 (0.99) .59 (0.63) .55 (0.62) 4. Formal and informal learning events (κ = .88) a. Receiving sage advice or mentorship 16 (34.8) .40 (1.03) −.13 (0.91) .08 (0.95) b. Formal education (e.g., classroom instruction) 14 (30.4) .76 (1.30) .45 (0.86) .24 (1.08) c. Self-directed learning (e.g., listening to radio show) 8 (17.4) −.04 (1.67) .54 (0.75) −.13 (0.96) d. Behavioral transgression at school 5 (10.9) −.20 (0.69) −.93 (0.37) −.07 (0.43) e. Other learning experience 3 (6.5) −.22 (1.58) .44 (0.51) .22 (0.19) Event type Event sub-type Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events (κ = .73) a. Interpersonal conflict, struggle, or rejection 58 (37.2) .73 (0.90) −.90 (0.56) −.45 (1.01) b. Divorce, separation, or break-up 42 (26.9) 1.68 (0.40) −1.37 (0.53) −1.58 (0.54) c. Becoming a parent or grandparent 29 (18.6) 1.79 (0.61) 1.61 (0.54) .97 (1.34) d. Relationship-building, marriage, or dating 14 (9.0) 1.38 (0.69) 1.05 (0.93) .64 (1.36) e. Other relationship event 13 (8.3) .38 (1.46) −.38 (1.01) −.44 (0.92) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events (κ = .88) a. Death 65 (47.1) 1.91 (0.27) −1.93 (0.21) −1.61 (0.77) b. Serious illness or health concern 33 (23.9) 1.66 (0.55) −1.32 (0.54) −1.72 (0.44) c. Accident, injury, or assault 23 (16.7) 1.30 (1.02) −1.46 (0.53) −1.49 (0.59) d. Addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) 8 (5.8) 1.42 (0.77) −.17 (1.11) −1.33 (0.78) e. Other life-threatening or mortality event 9 (6.5) 1.41 (0.81) −1.19 (0.60) −1.74 (0.46) 3. Career, occupation, or job events (κ = .76) a. Job loss, struggle, or setback 40 (58.0) .87 (0.93) −.96 (0.36) −.60 (0.84) b. Job gain, achievement, or mastery 29 (42.0) .62 (0.99) .59 (0.63) .55 (0.62) 4. Formal and informal learning events (κ = .88) a. Receiving sage advice or mentorship 16 (34.8) .40 (1.03) −.13 (0.91) .08 (0.95) b. Formal education (e.g., classroom instruction) 14 (30.4) .76 (1.30) .45 (0.86) .24 (1.08) c. Self-directed learning (e.g., listening to radio show) 8 (17.4) −.04 (1.67) .54 (0.75) −.13 (0.96) d. Behavioral transgression at school 5 (10.9) −.20 (0.69) −.93 (0.37) −.07 (0.43) e. Other learning experience 3 (6.5) −.22 (1.58) .44 (0.51) .22 (0.19) Note: Event characteristics were scored on scales ranging from −2 to 2. Inter-rater reliability is presented as Cohen’s kappa (κ). View Large Event characteristics To capture fundamentality, cultural normativity, and emotional valence, coders scored each event as it would be experienced by the average person in society, drawing on their general knowledge of an event’s meaning in North American culture (three coders per event characteristic). Fundamentality Fundamentality was defined as the extent to which an event is significant, core, or central to human life and well-being (e.g., falling in love, getting into a serious accident), compared to events that are mundane or inconsequential (e.g., passing a routine test, attending a birthday party). Fundamentality was rated on a bipolar scale from −2 (very inconsequential to human life) to 2 (very fundamental to human life). Cultural normativity Cultural normativity was defined as the perceived likelihood that the average person in society would experience an event over the course of their lifespan. Culturally normative events make up the stereotypical life script (e.g., attending school, getting married). In contrast, culturally non-normative events are unexpected or unique (e.g., getting robbed, surviving a house fire). Coders used a bipolar scale from −2 (very non-normative) to 2 (very normative). Emotional valence Emotional valence was defined as the extent to which an event would evoke a positive (e.g., adopting a pet, becoming a grandparent) or negative (e.g., being diagnosed with a serious illness, getting divorced) emotional response at the time of the event’s occurrence. Coders used a bipolar scale from −2 (very negative) to 2 (very positive) to score emotional valence, taking the perspective of the average person in society (Lilgendahl & McAdams, 2011). The middle point of the scale represented an event that was emotionally neutral or mixed in emotion (i.e., equal parts positive and negative). Background analyses indicated that emotional valence and cultural normativity were substantially positively skewed, and fundamentality was substantially negatively skewed. To correct skew, appropriate logarithmic transformations were computed (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013), and transformed variables were used for all inferential analyses. Narrative coherence Narrative coherence was scored using Reese et al.’s (2011),Narrative Coherence Coding System. In this model, narrative coherence is conceptualized as a multidimensional construct that has three facets: contextual coherence, defined as the extent to which the narrator established a specific time and place for the story; chronological coherence, defined as the extent to which story actions or events could be placed on a timeline; and thematic coherence, defined as the extent to which a narrative remained on topic and lacked digression. In Reese et al.’s (2011) coding scheme, thematic coherence also includes interpretations and causal linkages between aspects of the event and the self; however, these narrative characteristics are ordinarily considered aspects of narrative processing rather than structure. To avoid confounding narrative structure with process, for the present study, these characteristics were not scored as indicators of thematic coherence. Each dimension was scored from 0 to 3, with higher scores representing greater coherence. Six coders scored narrative coherence (two coders per dimension). Scores for each dimension were derived from the average of the two coders. The three coherence scores were then averaged to form a global coherence score. Meaning-making Meaning-making was defined as an exploratory process through which individuals consciously searched a life event for new or deeper understandings of the self, relationships, or life in general. Meanings could range from situation-specific behavioural lessons to fundamental insights about the self or world. Meaning-making was scored by three coders on a scale from 0 to 4, with higher scores indicating greater meaning. Depth of meaning was judged by how reflective, elaborate, impactful, integrated, and complex the meaning was. In contrast to alternative coding schemes (e.g., McLean & Pratt, 2006; McLean & Thorne, 2003), this scheme did not assume that behavioural lessons were less sophisticated than profound insights—both lessons and insights could vary in terms of depth of meaning. The three coders’ scores were averaged to form an overall meaning-making score. Personal growth Personal growth was defined as positive self-transformation over the long-term (Lilgendahl & McAdams, 2011; Pals, 2006). The narrator could attribute growth to the event itself, to what happened as a result of the event, or to the experience of reflecting back on the event from the standpoint of the present. In all cases, however, the event was the source of growth (i.e., the event was seen as stimulating or causing personal growth). In narratives where personal growth was present, the author conveyed that they were in some way stronger, healthier, better, or more mature as a result of the event. Personal growth was scored on a scale from 0 to 3, with higher scores assigned to memories where personal growth was a strong theme. The coders’ scores were averaged to create an overall personal growth score. Results Of the 502 participants in the sample, 482 provided a wisdom-fostering event memory. Autobiographical memories ranged in length from 10 to 1,688 words, with an average 209.26 (SD = 159.04) words. The average age at event occurrence was 32.77 (SD = 12.46), with a range of 5–62 years of age. Fundamental and culturally non-normative wisdom-fostering life events tended to occur at later ages in the life span, whereas emotional valence was unrelated to age at event occurrence (see Table 1). Narrative Content in Wisdom-Fostering Life Event Memories General characteristics of wisdom-fostering life events As expected, average ratings of wisdom-fostering life events tended to be somewhat negative (M = −0.58, SD = 1.19), quite fundamental (M = 1.09, SD = 1.07), and somewhat culturally non-normative (M = −0.62, SD = 1.22), although the standard deviations suggest substantial variability (see Figure 1). Notably, emotional valence and cultural normativity had a strong positive correlation, suggesting that these two event characteristics may be indistinguishable empirically—events that conform to the cultural life script tend to be positive, events that disrupt the life script are negative. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Mean levels of three wisdom-fostering event characteristics scored in autobiographical memories by expert raters on bipolar scales ranging from −2 (trivial, non-normative, emotionally negative) to 2 (fundamental, normative, emotionally positive). Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Mean levels of three wisdom-fostering event characteristics scored in autobiographical memories by expert raters on bipolar scales ranging from −2 (trivial, non-normative, emotionally negative) to 2 (fundamental, normative, emotionally positive). Specific types of wisdom-fostering life events To investigate the specific types of experiences reported, narratives were coded for their primary event type by two expert coders. Events were scored as belonging to one of seven possible event categories listed in Table 2, along with descriptive statistics and examples. The four highest frequency event types were also scored for sub-types, which are presented in Table 3 with descriptive statistics. Event types and characteristics in relation to level of wisdom Unexpectedly, wisdom was unrelated to emotional valence and cultural normativity (see Table 1). Fundamentality had a small positive linear relationship with general wisdom performance, but was uncorrelated with self-report wisdom and personal wisdom performance. Probing these relationships further, we conducted follow-up analyses to test the possibility that the participants’ age when the wisdom-fostering event occurred would moderate the relationship between life-event characteristics and wisdom. A hierarchical regression analysis showed that personal wisdom performance was predicted by the interaction of age at event occurrence and event fundamentality, β = .09, t(477) = 1.99, p = .047 (see Figure 2). The highest levels of personal wisdom were associated with individuals who reported gaining wisdom from highly fundamental events at later ages. All other interaction analyses between age at event occurrence and event characteristics were nonsignificant. Given the unequal number of men and women in the study, gender was included as a control variable in these analyses. Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Interaction plot illustrating that the association between personal wisdom and wisdom-fostering event fundamentality was moderated by the age at which the event occurred. The possible range for personal wisdom performance was 1 (very unwise) to 6 (very wise). Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Interaction plot illustrating that the association between personal wisdom and wisdom-fostering event fundamentality was moderated by the age at which the event occurred. The possible range for personal wisdom performance was 1 (very unwise) to 6 (very wise). To examine whether wiser people were more likely to report certain events over others, two analyses of variance were conducted, with separate analyses conducted for the self-report and performance measures of wisdom, both controlling for gender. First, a univariate analysis of variance was conducted with event type as the independent variable and the self-report wisdom composite as the dependent variable, and second, a one-way multivariate analysis of variance was conducted with the general and personal wisdom performance measures as the dependent variables. For these analyses, only the four high-frequency event categories were included, because other event categories were not expected to yield reliable estimates due to low frequencies. Contrary to our hypothesis, the univariate, F(3, 404) = 0.353, p = .787, ηp2 = .003, and multivariate, F(6, 806) = 1.435, p = .198, ηp2 = .011, models were nonsignificant, indicating that level of wisdom did not differ according to event type. Narrative Structure and Process in Wisdom-Fostering Event Memories Narrative structure and process in relation to level of wisdom Narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth were all positively associated with each other (see Table 1 for intercorrelations among narrative variables and descriptive statistics). As hypothesized, all types of wisdom were positively correlated with narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth (see Table 1). To assess the reconstructive and analytical components of Staudinger’s (2001) model of self-reflection, a series of hierarchical regression analyses were conducted with word count and gender entered as control variables in step one of the models, narrative coherence entered in step two, and either meaning-making or personal growth entered in step three. Results are summarized in Table 4. Supporting Staudinger’s model and our hypothesis, meaning-making and personal growth predicted incremental variance in measures of wisdom above and beyond narrative coherence. Meaning-making accounted for an additional 1%–2% of variance in general and personal wisdom performance, and personal growth accounted for an additional 1%–4% of variance across the three wisdom measures. Table 4. Hierarchical Regression Analyses Showing Incremental Prediction of Wisdom by Narrative Processing Self-report wisdom General wisdom performance Personal wisdom performance Predictor variables ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β Step 1: Models A and B  Word count  Gender .05** .00 (.00) −0.21 (.08) .17** −.12** .15** .00 (.00) −0.32 (.11) .33** −.20** .03** .00 (.00) −0.07 (.06) .16** −.06 Step 2: Models A and B  Narrative coherence .01 .13 (.08) .09 .01 .13 (.07) .09 .01* .15 (.06) .14* Step 3: Model A  Meaning-making .00 .02 (.05) .02 .01* .11 (.04) .11* .02** .12 (.04) .15** Step 3: Model B  Personal growth .01** .13 (.05) .12** .04** .20 (.04) .20** .04** .17 (.04) .22** Self-report wisdom General wisdom performance Personal wisdom performance Predictor variables ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β Step 1: Models A and B  Word count  Gender .05** .00 (.00) −0.21 (.08) .17** −.12** .15** .00 (.00) −0.32 (.11) .33** −.20** .03** .00 (.00) −0.07 (.06) .16** −.06 Step 2: Models A and B  Narrative coherence .01 .13 (.08) .09 .01 .13 (.07) .09 .01* .15 (.06) .14* Step 3: Model A  Meaning-making .00 .02 (.05) .02 .01* .11 (.04) .11* .02** .12 (.04) .15** Step 3: Model B  Personal growth .01** .13 (.05) .12** .04** .20 (.04) .20** .04** .17 (.04) .22** Note: In the above analyses, female is coded as 0 and male is coded as 1. *p ≤ .05. **p < .01. View Large Table 4. Hierarchical Regression Analyses Showing Incremental Prediction of Wisdom by Narrative Processing Self-report wisdom General wisdom performance Personal wisdom performance Predictor variables ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β Step 1: Models A and B  Word count  Gender .05** .00 (.00) −0.21 (.08) .17** −.12** .15** .00 (.00) −0.32 (.11) .33** −.20** .03** .00 (.00) −0.07 (.06) .16** −.06 Step 2: Models A and B  Narrative coherence .01 .13 (.08) .09 .01 .13 (.07) .09 .01* .15 (.06) .14* Step 3: Model A  Meaning-making .00 .02 (.05) .02 .01* .11 (.04) .11* .02** .12 (.04) .15** Step 3: Model B  Personal growth .01** .13 (.05) .12** .04** .20 (.04) .20** .04** .17 (.04) .22** Self-report wisdom General wisdom performance Personal wisdom performance Predictor variables ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β Step 1: Models A and B  Word count  Gender .05** .00 (.00) −0.21 (.08) .17** −.12** .15** .00 (.00) −0.32 (.11) .33** −.20** .03** .00 (.00) −0.07 (.06) .16** −.06 Step 2: Models A and B  Narrative coherence .01 .13 (.08) .09 .01 .13 (.07) .09 .01* .15 (.06) .14* Step 3: Model A  Meaning-making .00 .02 (.05) .02 .01* .11 (.04) .11* .02** .12 (.04) .15** Step 3: Model B  Personal growth .01** .13 (.05) .12** .04** .20 (.04) .20** .04** .17 (.04) .22** Note: In the above analyses, female is coded as 0 and male is coded as 1. *p ≤ .05. **p < .01. View Large Narrative structure and process in relation to event content The final set of analyses examined the extent to which narrative structure and process varied as a function of wisdom-fostering event characteristics and types. Results showed that narrative coherence and meaning-making were negatively associated with emotional valence and cultural normativity, and fundamentality was positively associated with personal growth (see Table 1), providing substantial support for our hypotheses. In terms of specific event types, a one-way multivariate analysis of variance was conducted with event type as the independent variable and narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth as the dependent variables. For this analysis, only the four high-frequency event types were included, and gender was included as a covariate. The overall model was significant, F(9, 978.51) = 4.475, p < .01, ηp2 = .032. Significant mean differences were detected across event types for meaning-making, F(3, 404) = 6.848, p < .01, ηp2 = .048, but not the other narrative variables. To inspect differences across event types, Bonferroni-corrected pairwise comparisons were conducted. Results showed that life-threatening and mortality events and relationship events contained higher levels of meaning-making than formal and informal learning experiences (ps < .01). Discussion Laypersons and experts have long believed that one pathway to wisdom is through successfully navigating the vicissitudes of life. But what specific life experiences are most likely to facilitate the development of wisdom and through what psychological mechanisms? By investigating autobiographical memories of wisdom-fostering life events, this study systematically extends a small collection of research that has examined wisdom in relation to naturally-occurring life experiences. What Types of Life Experience Foster Wisdom? A qualitative analysis of autobiographical memories yielded seven primary wisdom-fostering event types, representing a diverse range of life experiences. Despite this diversity, the four highest frequency event types accounted for 82% of the data. These were (a) relationship events, (b) life-threatening and mortality events, (c) career, occupation, and job events, and (d) formal and informal learning experiences. In order to probe this rich data further, the wisdom-fostering event memories were scored for three life-event characteristics: fundamentality, cultural normativity, and emotional valence. This analysis provided a sketch of the prototypical wisdom-fostering life experience—on average, participants reported developing wisdom from fundamental, emotionally negative, and culturally non-normative life events. High-frequency exemplars of this general event prototype included untimely death, serious illness and injury, divorce and separation, interpersonal conflict, and job loss. In general, individuals strongly associated wisdom with life’s more harrowing experiences, which is consistent with other research on laypeople’s conceptions of wisdom (Glück & Bluck, 2011) and theoretical models of wisdom (e.g., Glück & Bluck, 2013; Webster, 2007). There was some correspondence between participant’s level of wisdom and characteristics of the wisdom-fostering events they reported. General wisdom performance and event fundamentality were positively related, which is consistent with the idea that general wisdom is both applied to fundamental life situations, and grows out of them as well (Baltes & Staudinger, 1993). Interestingly, the relationship between event fundamentality and personal wisdom performance was moderated by the age at which the event occurred. The wisest participants reported gaining wisdom from highly fundamental events that occurred later in their lifespan rather than earlier. The probability of experiencing certain types of fundamental events increases with age (e.g., divorce, illness, job loss), and wiser people, or people who have the potential to become wise, are particularly well positioned to grow from them, given personal resources such as advanced self-reflective abilities (Glück & Bluck, 2013), which are likely to improve with age. These results suggest that of the three life-event characteristics examined in this study, fundamentality may be the key feature of a wisdom-fostering event. With this said, the life-event characteristics were significantly interrelated, such that emotionally negative and culturally non-normative events were more fundamental than positive or normative events. Although these findings are suggestive, the effect sizes are small, which is consistent with other research that has found weak associations between subjective theories of wisdom and actual wisdom (Weststrate, Ferrari, & Ardelt, 2016). The prototypical wisdom-fostering event that we observed in this study may simply reflect stereotypical beliefs about the types of experiences that are thought to make people wiser. In general, it appears that people who have the personal resources to become wise can construct wisdom from many different types of life experiences, suggesting that psychological characteristics may be more important than experiential contexts when it comes to developing wisdom, which we discuss further in the next section. For now, consider the following prototypical example of a highly negative, fundamental, and culturally non-normative event that was reported by a 46-year-old woman, from an event that occurred at age 22: It was the best worst day of my life. Laying on the shower floor, bewildered, finding safety in the solitude as warm water rained over me. My fiancée had come over after work. Things had been rocky for months, and he was increasingly more critical and controlling of everything I did. But expectations where mounting. Parents expected a wedding. There were wifely duties to be fulfilled, and I was failing at most turns. The cooking wasn’t good enough, the apartment had to be spotless, there was no room for error. Charlie arrived in a foul mood. We were meant to go out for a romantic evening. It was anything but. He answered the welcoming kiss by throwing me to the floor and assaulting me. In the horror of that moment, I woke up to the reality of who he truly was. The man I fell in love with was a fiction, and illusion of who he wanted to be; who I wanted him to be was shattered. The reality of him, sneering insults with his knee grinding into my back and the carpet burning my face, was an angry bully. Petty. Small. I managed to wriggle free, pulled my knees to my chest. Sitting up like a fortified stone, I quietly growled, “You will never touch me again.” He left, and I sat there alone, still hugging my knees against my naked chest as the afternoon light gave way to dusk and darkness. Eventually I crawled into the shower, sobbing, finding solace in the warm water and steam that caressed and soothed. For months, he had criticized relentlessly, and tried to break my spirit. He peeled me like a rose and found nothing there. That night he tried to break me physically. Ironically, in his effort to destroy me, he made me stronger. In trying to make me more submissive, I become more independent. In that moment, I found me. This is a remarkable story of growth and transformation through adversity. This narrative exemplifies a genre of wisdom-fostering events involving shattered expectations and disillusionment with life. Through challenging life events, participants achieve clearer perspectives on their own situations without becoming bitter or cynical about lost possibilities. People on this path to wisdom commonly report feeling grateful for the growth and clarity that hardship brings, although they do not always report being happier (Webster et al., 2017; Weststrate & Glück, 2017). While the majority of wisdom-fostering events followed this general storyline—a master narrative of wisdom development (e.g., McLean & Syed, 2015)—it was not exclusively the case. There were many other examples where participants derived great wisdom from highly positive events. For instance, the birth of a child or grandchild often led to a fundamental shift in the participants’ worldviews, producing a deeper appreciation of the meaning of life, a new life philosophy, or a renewed sense of purpose. Glück and Bluck (2013) proposed that people high in the MORE resources are likely to grow from both positive and negative events, so long as the event involves a fundamental challenge of some kind. The birth of a child is undoubtedly challenging, albeit emotionally positive. Although wisdom is ordinarily associated with fundamental, non-normative, and emotionally negative life experiences, there were many examples in this study were individuals constructed wisdom from relatively trivial life experiences (e.g., a fishing trip, reading a novel, attending a birthday party). This speaks to situational and personal determinants of wisdom: Some life events provide optimal conditions for the construction of wisdom, but individual differences in psychological characteristics greatly influence wisdom development, such as the ability to think deeply, abstractly, and perhaps allegorically about seemingly mundane life events, in order to extract higher-order lessons and insights that can be applied to future situations. To address the personal factors that might facilitate or constrain growth in wisdom from life events, the present study examined individual differences in self-reflective processing. How Do Wise People Construct Wisdom from Life Experience? To examine individual differences in self-reflective processing, wisdom-fostering event memories were scored for reconstructive (i.e., narrative coherence) and analytical (i.e., meaning-making, personal growth) components of self-reflection. As expected, wiser individuals told more coherent memories that contained higher levels of meaning-making and stronger themes of personal growth. These findings replicate past research that found a positive association between analytical forms of narrative processing and wisdom (Webster et al., 2017; Weststrate & Glück, 2017), and extend past research by showing that wisdom is also positively associated with structural aspects of memories, specifically, narrative coherence. Moreover, supporting Staudinger’s (2001) model, analytical forms of self-reflection provided incremental prediction of variance in wisdom above and beyond reconstructive or structural aspects. Thus, wiser people were more likely than others to engage in high-quality event reconstruction and analysis. These self-reflective tendencies are likely to represent a mechanism through which wisdom is derived from life experience. Self-reflection was related to both personal and general wisdom, suggesting that insights gained from autobiographical experiences may translate to life in general (Staudinger, 2013). After controlling for narrative length and gender, we found that narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth were more strongly correlated with personal than general wisdom, as one might expect, although the differences were small. While these self-reflective processes are expected to be largely dispositional, they also vary as a function of event characteristics. First, life-threatening and mortality events and relationship events contained higher levels of meaning-making than other events. Second, emotionally negative and culturally non-normative events were remembered in more coherent and meaningful terms than other events, and fundamental events contained more personal growth. It is likely that these types of events require greater effort spent on narrative reconstruction and analysis, either to repair disrupted expectations of life, or possibly to create a meaningful self-story when no cultural master narrative is available for sense-making (McLean et al., 2017). Thus, not only are fundamental, culturally non-normative, and emotionally negative events subjectively associated with wisdom development by laypersons, they were also more likely to involve sophisticated levels of self-reflective processing that have been positively associated with wisdom in this study and elsewhere (Webster et al., 2017; Weststrate & Glück, 2017). We conclude that both person and life-event characteristics influence wisdom development, although not equally. The results of this study suggest that for highly self-reflective people, wisdom can be constructed from many types of life experience. Certain types of life experience, however, may indirectly influence wisdom development by inducing more intensive self-reflection and providing better subject matter for the construction of wisdom. Future research should explore the independent and interactive contributions of self-reflection and exposure to certain types of life events on the development of wisdom. Limitations and Future Research Although this sample was quite diverse with respect to household income and geographic location in the United States, the participants were especially homogenous with respect to race/ethnicity (81.9% white), limiting the generalizability of the results to other populations. A limitation of the design of this study concerns the collection of only one wisdom-fostering event memory. Future research should sample multiple memories from each participant to access a representative cross-section of wisdom-fostering life events. Repeated exposure to certain types of life events may be the key determinant of wisdom development rather than singular experiences. The naive approach to scoring personal and general wisdom is relatively untested (for exceptions, see Smith & Baltes, 1990; Staudinger et al., 1992), therefore, results should be interpreted with this limitation in mind. This study suggests, however, that the naive approach may be a promising alternative when resources are limited and a performance measure of wisdom is desired. Future research should also investigate wisdom-fostering event memories for the specific lessons and insights gleaned by wise people. The present study has shown that wiser participants imbue their memories with meaning, but what is it, exactly, that wiser people have learned about life that others have not? Translating this knowledge for laypeople to consider could be one way to create a world with wiser people in it. Conclusion This is the first study to examine subjective theories of wisdom development within the context of real-life, autobiographical experiences. Results demonstrated that people tend to report gaining wisdom from fundamental, emotionally negative, and culturally non-normative life events, and that wiser participants tend to engage in high-quality self-reflection on wisdom-fostering life experiences. We conclude by emphasizing the importance of further examining the independent and joint influences of persons and environments on the genesis of wisdom. Life may provide optimal contexts for growth in wisdom, but individuals must still do the hard work of constructing it. References Adler , J. M. , Lodi-Smith , J. , Philippe , F. L. , & Houle , I . ( 2016 ). The incremental validity of narrative identity in predicting well-being: A review of the field and recommendations for the future . 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“It was the best worst day of my life”: Narrative Content, Structure, and Process in Wisdom-Fostering Life Event Memories

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© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.
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Abstract

Abstract Objectives The purpose of this study was to examine laypeople’s subjective understanding of their own wisdom development. To do this, autobiographical memories of wisdom-fostering life events were examined for (a) life-event characteristics, and (b) self-reflective processes believed to support growth in wisdom through life experience. Methods Midlife adults (N = 482) provided a written autobiographical memory of a wisdom-fostering life event. Memories were content analyzed by expert coders for life-event characteristics (i.e., fundamentality, emotional valence, cultural normativity, and specific event types) and self-reflective processes (i.e., narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth). Participants also completed self-report and performance measures of wisdom. Results Wisdom-fostering life events tended to be fundamental to life, culturally non-normative, and emotionally negative. Participants frequently reported developing wisdom from relationship events (e.g., interpersonal conflict, divorce) and life-threatening/mortality events (e.g., death, serious illness). Wisdom was positively associated with reconstructive (i.e., narrative coherence) and analytical (i.e., meaning-making, personal growth) components of self-reflection. Self-reflective processes varied as a function of life-event characteristics. Discussion This study emphasizes the role of both persons and environments in the development of wisdom, and highlights the importance of self-reflection as a mechanism through which wisdom is constructed from life experience. Autobiographical memory, Life experience, Narrative, Self-reflection, Wisdom The ancient concept of wisdom has received diverse treatment within the psychological sciences. On the one hand, wisdom has been viewed as a constellation of mature personality characteristics, involving attributes like self-transcendence, compassion for others, and a deep interest in the truth (e.g., Ardelt, 2003; Levenson, Jennings, Aldwin, & Shiraishi, 2005). On the other hand, wisdom has been defined as the exceptional application of experience-based knowledge, judgment, and skill to fundamental life matters, either concerning life in general (i.e., general wisdom; Baltes & Smith, 2008) or one’s own life (i.e., personal wisdom; Staudinger, 2013). These conceptual definitions imply distinct measurement models, ranging from self-report scales to performance tasks, respectively. Developmentally speaking, both laypeople (Glück & Bluck, 2011) and experts (Jeste et al., 2010) report that wisdom is constructed from life experience. According to the MORE Life Experience Model (Glück & Bluck, 2013), wisdom develops through the dynamic interplay of fundamental life challenges and five personal resources (i.e., mastery, openness, reflectivity, emotion regulation, empathy). The present study contributes to this literature by (a) identifying types of the life experiences that people consider to be wisdom fostering, and (b) examining one particular MORE resource, namely, reflectivity, which we argue is particularly essential to the development of wisdom through life experience. Grist for the Wisdom Mill: Life Experiences that Foster Wisdom “Life experience” is a broad and somewhat vague term. In many cases, life experience is used as a synonym for life insight, knowledge, or expertise—to say that someone has “life experience” is to imply that they are “experienced at life.” Here, the cause and effect are confounded. To clarify our usage of this term, we view life experience as the potential catalyst or source material for growth in wisdom (Baltes & Staudinger, 1993; Glück & Bluck, 2013). In this study, we specifically define life experience as the naturally-occurring events that people encounter over the course of their life (for an alternative treatment of life experience, i.e., professional specialization, see Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes, 1992). With this in mind, we hereafter use the terms life experience and life events interchangeably. Life events come in many varieties (e.g., discrete and prolonged, emotionally positive and negative, mundane and momentous), and surely not all of them are expected to influence wisdom development. Conveniently, diverse literatures point to three characteristics that differentiate life events, all of which are theoretically relevant to wisdom development, but understudied from an empirical standpoint. Fundamentality According to Pillemer (2001), “At rare moments in every life, the ongoing stream of mundane daily occurrences is punctuated by distinctive, circumscribed, highly emotional and influential episodes.” (p. 123; see also King & Hicks, 2009). Fundamental events may carry extended psychological effects, such as the premature death of a loved one or a bitter divorce, compared to mundane events (e.g., watching a movie, getting gas for the car), which are unlikely to disrupt a person’s expectations of life and, consequently, fail to induce the type of critical life- or self-reflection that might lead to wisdom. In their ontogenetic model of wisdom, researchers from the Berlin wisdom paradigm argued that wisdom is facilitated by the experience of fundamental life events, which, when combined with other favorable conditions, can lead to deeper insight, knowledge, and judgment about life (e.g., Baltes & Smith, 2008; Baltes & Staudinger, 1993). Cultural Normativity Culturally normative events are strongly related to chronological age and tend to occur in highly similar ways with respect to timing and duration for most individuals in a culture (Baltes, Reese, & Lipsitt, 1980). These events include developmental milestones like puberty, graduating from high school, marriage, and retirement. Developmental researchers studying autobiographical memory have referred to this uniform sequence of events as the cultural life script (e.g., Bohn & Bernsten, 2008; Rubin & Bernsten, 2003), the cultural concept of biography (Habermas, 2007; Habermas & Bluck, 2000), or the biographical master narrative (McLean & Syed, 2015; see also Arnett, 2016). The cultural life script is a stereotypical, arguably idealized, version of a life. Highly normative events come with prepackaged cultural meaning, making them easy to integrate into one’s ongoing sense of self. Yet many people’s lives deviate from the script in important ways. Events that violate the cultural life script (e.g., divorce, job loss, debilitating accident or injury) may require effortful self-reflective processing in order to make sense of them (e.g., McLean et al., 2017; McLean, Shucard, & Syed, 2017), which might present an opportunity for growth in wisdom. Emotional Valence When asked to report life events that involved wise thought, advice, or action, both children (König & Glück, 2012) and adults (Bluck & Glück, 2004) most frequently recalled events that were negative in valence (e.g., interpersonal conflicts, serious accidents). When asked about how wisdom develops, Glück and Bluck (2011) found that laypeople rated “through enduring and overcoming highly negative events” and “through confronting human mortality” as two of the most important experiential determinants of wisdom. Typically, adversity shatters a person’s “assumptive world” (Janoff-Bulman, 1992; Kauffman, 2002), compelling individuals to re-evaluate taken-for-granted belief systems. In constructivist terms, adversity incites a state of disequilibrium that might necessitate the accommodation of disrupted schemes, producing lasting effects on personality and knowledge structures (Block, 1982; Joseph & Linley, 2005). King and Hicks (2009) found that individuals were more likely to construct new meaning (i.e., lessons, insights) from emotionally negative life events than positive events (see also McLean & Thorne, 2003; Webster & Deng, 2015). Under optimal circumstances, these newly constructed schemes represent elevated levels of wisdom. Psychological Processes that Support Growth in Wisdom Through Life Experience Life experience interacts with personal resources to explain how individuals optimally gain wisdom from the past (Glück & Bluck, 2013). Specifically, reflection has featured prominently in psychological models and subjective theories of wisdom (Ardelt, 2003; Bluck & Glück, 2005; Glück & Bluck, 2011; Jeste et al., 2010; Webster, 2007). Staudinger and colleagues suggested that reflection on autobiographical experiences (i.e., self-reflection) should lead to both personal and general wisdom, whereas reflection on other people’s life experiences or on life in general (i.e., life reflection) should lead to general wisdom but not necessarily personal wisdom (Mickler & Staudinger, 2008; Staudinger, 2013; Staudinger, Dörner, & Mickler, 2005). As Staudinger (2013) puts it, “It is much more difficult to obtain insight into one’s own life than into the difficulties and problems of others.” (p. 7). Reconstructive and Analytical Components of Self-Reflection Staudinger (2001) proposed a model of self-reflection that was argued to facilitate the development of wisdom, encompassing two components: (a) “remembering” or reconstructing an event in one’s memory, and (b) “further analysis” or explaining, interpreting, and evaluating the significance of the event. Providing preliminary support for this model, Staudinger (2001) showed that in response to the prompt, “What exactly do you do when you think back over your life?” (p. 157), wisdom nominees were more likely to emphasize analytical self-reflection (i.e., explanation, evaluation) than matched control participants, who, in contrast, were more likely to report engaging in reconstructive self-reflection (i.e., simple reminiscence). Narrative psychologists have provided a framework for assessing individual differences in the quality of event reconstruction and analysis (McAdams, 2001; McAdams & McLean, 2013; see also Adler, Lodi-Smith, Philippe, & Houle, 2016). Using standardized coding manuals, narrative psychologists assess content, structure, and process in autobiographical narratives of important life events. Narrative content primarily concerns the subject matter of the narrative, including event characteristics (e.g., Galliher, McLean, & Syed, 2017; Thorne, McLean, & Lawrence, 2004), which we define here as fundamentality, cultural normativity, and emotional valence, as well as the specific event type reported. Narrative structure concerns the composition of the narrative, most typically, how coherent the story is (e.g., Baerger & McAdams, 1999; Habermas & de Silveira, 2008; Reese et al., 2011), and is akin to Staudinger’s reconstructive component. Finally, narrative processing concerns the degree to which an event has been explored and interpreted for deeper meaning and connected back to one’s understanding of the self or world, and is akin to Staudinger’s analytical component. In the present study, we operationalized narrative structure with a multidimensional measure of narrative coherence, and narrative processing with measures of meaning-making and personal growth. Some research has shown that meaning-making and personal growth (i.e., exploratory modes of processing) are more strongly associated with wisdom than other forms of narrative processing that are aimed at positive emotional transformation and closure (i.e., redemptive processing; Webster, Weststrate, Ferrari, Munroe, & Pierce, 2017; Weststrate & Glück, 2017), but so far no research has examined the incremental prediction of wisdom by analytical components of self-reflection (i.e., meaning-making, personal growth) over reconstructive aspects (i.e., narrative coherence). The Current Study In the present study, we first content analyzed wisdom-fostering life event memories for fundamentality, cultural normativity, emotional valence, and event type. Second, we examined qualities of self-reflective processing, with a particular focus on reconstructive and analytical aspects of self-reflection. Third, we examined how self-reflective processing differed as a function of wisdom-fostering event characteristics. Finally, we examined the extent to which properties of wisdom-fostering event memories were related to individual differences in participants’ levels of wisdom. Hypotheses 1. We hypothesized that, on average, wisdom-fostering life events would be highly fundamental, culturally non-normative, and emotionally negative (e.g., divorce, serious illness, job loss). 2. Wiser people would be more likely than others to report fundamental, culturally non-normative, and emotionally negative life events. 3. Wisdom would be positively associated with narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth. 4. Analytical aspects of self-reflection (i.e., meaning-making, personal growth) would incrementally predict variance in wisdom above and beyond reconstructive aspects (i.e., narrative coherence). 5. Levels of narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth would be highest among fundamental, culturally non-normative, and emotionally negative events. Method Participants A large sample of midlife adults was collected from the United States, representing 46 states, through an online crowdsourcing platform (Amazon’s Mechanical Turk; AMT). Participants were invited to complete a 60- to 90-min survey on the topic of “Personality and Life Experiences,” for which they were compensated $4.00 (USD). In order to qualify, participants had to be between the ages of 40 and 65 years. A total of 666 AMT users opened the survey and 521 chose to complete it. Although AMT is a regulated online crowdsourcing platform, we were concerned about participants providing fraudulent responses, specifically where the participant selected the same response option for all items on a multi-item Likert-style questionnaire. To identify fraudulent responses of this nature, we computed standard deviations for all multi-item questionnaire variables. Respondents with standard deviations of 0 on any of these questionnaires were removed due to concerns about potentially compromised data (n = 19). Thus, data from 502 participants was retained for the final sample. In terms of demographics, average participant age was 48.87 (SD = 6.86), 62.9% identified as female, 81.9% identified as white, 61.7% were employed full-time or self-employed, and 95.8% spoke English as their first language (detailed demographic information is provided in the Supplementary Materials). Procedure Participants were directed to a secure website where they completed the online survey. Upon completion, participants were compensated via their AMT account. Measures and Tasks Self-report wisdom Three self-report wisdom questionnaires were collected: Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3DWS; Ardelt, 2003), Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale (SAWS; Webster, 2007), and Adult Self-Transcendence Inventory-Revised (ASTI; Levenson et al., 2005). The 39-item 3D-WS defines wisdom as the integration of cognitive, reflective, and compassionate personality characteristics (Ardelt, 2003). Items are rated on one of two five-point Likert scales (strongly agree to strongly disagree or definitely true of myself to not true of myself). An overall wisdom score was computed by averaging subscales (Cronbach’s α = .90). The 40-item SAWS defines wisdom as the integration of five wisdom facets: critical life experience, reminiscence and reflectiveness, openness, emotion regulation, and humour (Webster, 2007). Each facet is assessed with an 8-item subscale, with items rated on a six-point Likert scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). Items are averaged to form an overall wisdom score (Cronbach’s α = .93). The 28-item ASTI-R defines wisdom as a form of self-transcendence, which entails decreased self-concern and elevated levels of empathy, understanding, spirituality, and connectedness with past and future generations (Levenson et al., 2005). Items are rated on a four-point Likert scale (disagree strongly to agree strongly). All items were averaged to form an overall wisdom score (Cronbach’s α = .90). As a last step, the overall wisdom scores on three self-report questionnaires were standardized and averaged to create a self-report wisdom composite variable. General wisdom performance To assess general wisdom performance, participants responded to the following hypothetical life dilemma used commonly in the Berlin wisdom paradigm: “A 15-year-old girl wants to get married right away. What should one take into consideration and do in such a situation?” In the traditional approach, participants “think aloud” about the dilemma, and their responses are recorded, transcribed, and then scored by expert raters for five aspects of wisdom-related knowledge (Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes, 1994). This approach is extremely resource-taxing and was thus modified for the present study. First, participants responded in writing rather than verbally (see Helson & Srivastava, 2002). Second, written responses were scored by 10 naive judges rather than trained experts. The naive judges were senior undergraduate students enrolled in a research opportunity program. Naive judges were not trained to use a standardized scoring manual, but instead were told to rate how wise the responses were, based on their own subjective wisdom theory, on a six-point bipolar scale from 1 (very unwise) to 6 (very wise). These scores were averaged to create an overall general wisdom performance score. Full instructions for participants are provided in the Supplementary Materials. Inter-rater reliability and interrelations among measures of wisdom are presented in Table 1. The naive rating approach is supported by Staudinger et al. (1992), who found that correlations between wisdom ratings made by naive and trained judges ranged from .41 to .68 (see also Smith & Baltes, 1990). Table 1. Correlation Matrix and Descriptive Statistics for Wisdom Measures, Characteristics of Wisdom-Fostering Event Memories, and Person Characteristics Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Wisdom   1. Self-report wisdom -   2. General wisdom performance .29** -   3. Personal wisdom performance .21** .35** - Narrative characteristics   4. Word count .16** .31** .14** -   5. Contextual coherence .05 .12** .05 .37** -   6. Chronological coherence .13** .17** .15** .49** .44** -   7. Thematic coherence .22** .36** .24** .62** .26** .53** -   8. Global coherence .17** .28** .19** .62** .75** .84** .75** -   9. Meaning-making .10* .24** .20** .36** .06 .15** .46** .28** -  10. Personal growth .16** .26** .24** .11* -.04 .11** .36** .18** .48** - Event characteristics   11. Fundamentality .08 .10* .02 .05 −.01 .01 .07 .03 .09 .20** -   12. Emotional valence −.02 −.02 .07 −.17** −.13** −.19** −.14** −.20** −.20** .00 −.36** -   13. Cultural Normativity −.07 −.06 .05 −.19** −.17** −.19** −.16** −.22** −.16** −.03 −.47** .75** - Person characteristics   14. Age .02 .02 −.05 .03 .08 .09 .01 .08 −.02 −.01 .02 −.02 −.05   15. Age at wisdom-fostering event .05 .05 .00 .07 −.03 −.01 .10* .02 .07 .01 .09* −.04 −.11*   16. Gender −.13** −.20** −.05 −.06 −.05 −.04 −.10* −.08 −.13** −.09 −.16** −.10* −.17** Range (max – min) - 1.20–5.80 1.00–5.50 10–1,688 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–4 0–3 −2–2 −2–2 −2–2 M (SD) - 3.84 (0.79) 4.04 (0.63) 209.26 (159.04) 1.71 (0.80) 1.96 (0.74) 1.67 (0.72) 1.78 (0.59) 2.04 (0.80) 1.73 (0.77) 1.09 (1.07) −.58 (1.19) −.62 (1.22) Inter-rater reliability - .83 .70 - .84 .74 .75 - .81 .84 .86 .91 .89 Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Wisdom   1. Self-report wisdom -   2. General wisdom performance .29** -   3. Personal wisdom performance .21** .35** - Narrative characteristics   4. Word count .16** .31** .14** -   5. Contextual coherence .05 .12** .05 .37** -   6. Chronological coherence .13** .17** .15** .49** .44** -   7. Thematic coherence .22** .36** .24** .62** .26** .53** -   8. Global coherence .17** .28** .19** .62** .75** .84** .75** -   9. Meaning-making .10* .24** .20** .36** .06 .15** .46** .28** -  10. Personal growth .16** .26** .24** .11* -.04 .11** .36** .18** .48** - Event characteristics   11. Fundamentality .08 .10* .02 .05 −.01 .01 .07 .03 .09 .20** -   12. Emotional valence −.02 −.02 .07 −.17** −.13** −.19** −.14** −.20** −.20** .00 −.36** -   13. Cultural Normativity −.07 −.06 .05 −.19** −.17** −.19** −.16** −.22** −.16** −.03 −.47** .75** - Person characteristics   14. Age .02 .02 −.05 .03 .08 .09 .01 .08 −.02 −.01 .02 −.02 −.05   15. Age at wisdom-fostering event .05 .05 .00 .07 −.03 −.01 .10* .02 .07 .01 .09* −.04 −.11*   16. Gender −.13** −.20** −.05 −.06 −.05 −.04 −.10* −.08 −.13** −.09 −.16** −.10* −.17** Range (max – min) - 1.20–5.80 1.00–5.50 10–1,688 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–4 0–3 −2–2 −2–2 −2–2 M (SD) - 3.84 (0.79) 4.04 (0.63) 209.26 (159.04) 1.71 (0.80) 1.96 (0.74) 1.67 (0.72) 1.78 (0.59) 2.04 (0.80) 1.73 (0.77) 1.09 (1.07) −.58 (1.19) −.62 (1.22) Inter-rater reliability - .83 .70 - .84 .74 .75 - .81 .84 .86 .91 .89 Note: Inter-reliability statistics are reported as intraclass correlation coefficients (two-way random effects model, absolute agreement definition). Point-biserial correlations coefficients are presented for gender, with female coded as 0 and male coded as 1. *p < .05. **p < .01. View Large Table 1. Correlation Matrix and Descriptive Statistics for Wisdom Measures, Characteristics of Wisdom-Fostering Event Memories, and Person Characteristics Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Wisdom   1. Self-report wisdom -   2. General wisdom performance .29** -   3. Personal wisdom performance .21** .35** - Narrative characteristics   4. Word count .16** .31** .14** -   5. Contextual coherence .05 .12** .05 .37** -   6. Chronological coherence .13** .17** .15** .49** .44** -   7. Thematic coherence .22** .36** .24** .62** .26** .53** -   8. Global coherence .17** .28** .19** .62** .75** .84** .75** -   9. Meaning-making .10* .24** .20** .36** .06 .15** .46** .28** -  10. Personal growth .16** .26** .24** .11* -.04 .11** .36** .18** .48** - Event characteristics   11. Fundamentality .08 .10* .02 .05 −.01 .01 .07 .03 .09 .20** -   12. Emotional valence −.02 −.02 .07 −.17** −.13** −.19** −.14** −.20** −.20** .00 −.36** -   13. Cultural Normativity −.07 −.06 .05 −.19** −.17** −.19** −.16** −.22** −.16** −.03 −.47** .75** - Person characteristics   14. Age .02 .02 −.05 .03 .08 .09 .01 .08 −.02 −.01 .02 −.02 −.05   15. Age at wisdom-fostering event .05 .05 .00 .07 −.03 −.01 .10* .02 .07 .01 .09* −.04 −.11*   16. Gender −.13** −.20** −.05 −.06 −.05 −.04 −.10* −.08 −.13** −.09 −.16** −.10* −.17** Range (max – min) - 1.20–5.80 1.00–5.50 10–1,688 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–4 0–3 −2–2 −2–2 −2–2 M (SD) - 3.84 (0.79) 4.04 (0.63) 209.26 (159.04) 1.71 (0.80) 1.96 (0.74) 1.67 (0.72) 1.78 (0.59) 2.04 (0.80) 1.73 (0.77) 1.09 (1.07) −.58 (1.19) −.62 (1.22) Inter-rater reliability - .83 .70 - .84 .74 .75 - .81 .84 .86 .91 .89 Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Wisdom   1. Self-report wisdom -   2. General wisdom performance .29** -   3. Personal wisdom performance .21** .35** - Narrative characteristics   4. Word count .16** .31** .14** -   5. Contextual coherence .05 .12** .05 .37** -   6. Chronological coherence .13** .17** .15** .49** .44** -   7. Thematic coherence .22** .36** .24** .62** .26** .53** -   8. Global coherence .17** .28** .19** .62** .75** .84** .75** -   9. Meaning-making .10* .24** .20** .36** .06 .15** .46** .28** -  10. Personal growth .16** .26** .24** .11* -.04 .11** .36** .18** .48** - Event characteristics   11. Fundamentality .08 .10* .02 .05 −.01 .01 .07 .03 .09 .20** -   12. Emotional valence −.02 −.02 .07 −.17** −.13** −.19** −.14** −.20** −.20** .00 −.36** -   13. Cultural Normativity −.07 −.06 .05 −.19** −.17** −.19** −.16** −.22** −.16** −.03 −.47** .75** - Person characteristics   14. Age .02 .02 −.05 .03 .08 .09 .01 .08 −.02 −.01 .02 −.02 −.05   15. Age at wisdom-fostering event .05 .05 .00 .07 −.03 −.01 .10* .02 .07 .01 .09* −.04 −.11*   16. Gender −.13** −.20** −.05 −.06 −.05 −.04 −.10* −.08 −.13** −.09 −.16** −.10* −.17** Range (max – min) - 1.20–5.80 1.00–5.50 10–1,688 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–3 0–4 0–3 −2–2 −2–2 −2–2 M (SD) - 3.84 (0.79) 4.04 (0.63) 209.26 (159.04) 1.71 (0.80) 1.96 (0.74) 1.67 (0.72) 1.78 (0.59) 2.04 (0.80) 1.73 (0.77) 1.09 (1.07) −.58 (1.19) −.62 (1.22) Inter-rater reliability - .83 .70 - .84 .74 .75 - .81 .84 .86 .91 .89 Note: Inter-reliability statistics are reported as intraclass correlation coefficients (two-way random effects model, absolute agreement definition). Point-biserial correlations coefficients are presented for gender, with female coded as 0 and male coded as 1. *p < .05. **p < .01. View Large Personal wisdom performance To assess personal wisdom performance, a variation of Mickler and Staudinger’s (2005, 2008) Bremen wisdom paradigm was collected. Rather than solve a hypothetical dilemma, participants were asked about what they thought or did when solving life-related problems from their personal past. Specifically, they were asked to write about a time when they had experienced some sort of a conflict with a close friend. These instructions were modified from the prompt used by Mickler and Staudinger (2008), which asked participants to reflect somewhat generally on how they are as friends. The domain of friendship was kept consistent, but the modified task focused specifically on a conflict situation in order to keep the event type standardized across participants. All other instructions paralleled the general wisdom task exactly. Instructions are included in the Supplementary Materials. Autobiographical memory task Participants provided a written autobiographical memory of wisdom-fostering life event, prompted by the following instructions: Often people report having gained wisdom from significant life experiences. In reflection on life experience, people sometimes learn lessons or gain insights that they consider to be wise. We’d like you to tell us about an event in your life that made you wiser or helped you gain wisdom in some way. It is not necessary that you felt wiser while the event was occurring—it could be that you gained wisdom in reflection on the event, and looking back you now see the event as one that helped you grow in wisdom. If you feel that you have had no wisdom-promoting experiences in your life, then describe a particular episode in your life that comes closer than any other to qualifying as one. Participants were instructed to describe the wisdom-fostering experience in narrative form, and when telling their story, to include information about: what happened, when it happened, and who was involved; what they were thinking, feeling, and wanting at the time; why the experience is a significant event in their life story; and what the event might say about who that person is, were, and might become, and how they have developed over time. Participants reported the age at which their wisdom-fostering event occurred. Narrative coding Twenty-five research assistants were divided into coding groups and trained to score the memories using standard practices (Syed & Nelson, 2015). Overlap in coding group membership was avoided in order to reduce the possible effects of coder bias and thus shared method variance. For each coding system, coders scored the narratives in multiple waves, with reliability computed after each wave in order to assess coder drift. Within each wave, the narratives were randomized across coders, which eliminated order effects. Narrative excerpts are included in the Supplementary Materials. Event type Two coders scored narratives for their focal or primary event—that is, the real-life context, situation, or setting of the narrative. Primary event types were extracted and collapsed into meaningful categories until saturation was reached at seven distinct types, which are listed in Table 2. Two expert coders categorized each event, reaching a satisfactory level of inter-rater reliability (Cohen’s κ = .79). To add nuance, the four highest frequency wisdom-fostering event types—(a) relationship events, (b) life-threatening and mortality events, (c) career events, occupation, and job events, and (d) formal and informal learning experiences—were subsequently scored for event sub-types. Two expert coders took an inductive approach to determining sub-types, paralleling the procedure used for establishing primary event types, and then independently categorized each memory. Event sub-types are presented in Table 3, along with descriptive statistics and inter-rater reliability. All categorization disagreements were resolved using a consensus approach (Syed & Nelson, 2015). Table 2. Descriptive Statistics for Wisdom-Fostering Event Types and Characteristics with Examples Event type Examples Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events Dating, marriage, divorce, interpersonal conflict 156 (31.1) 1.21 (0.94) −.34 (1.30) −.39 (1.35) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events Death, serious illness, accident or injury, physical or sexual assault, natural disaster 138 (27.5) 1.69 (0.63) −1.56 (0.65) −1.61 (0.66) 3. Career, occupation, or job events New job or promotion, job loss or change, passing a qualifying exam, starting a business, retirement 69 (13.7) .76 (0.95) −.31 (0.91) −.12 (0.95) 4. Formal or informal learning events Classroom instruction, independent study, receiving advice or mentorship, psychotherapy 46 (9.2) .33 (1.25) .12 (0.91) .09 (0.91) 5. Recreation, leisure, or short-term travel events Sporting event, entertainment, birthday party, vacation or holiday 17 (3.4) −.57 (0.92) .53 (0.78) .12 (0.35) 6. Sojourn, permanent relocation, or immigration events Student exchange, moving across the country, starting a new life abroad 16 (3.2) 1.23 (0.97) −.52 (1.09) −.58 (0.98) 7. Religious or spiritual events Attending religious service, studying a religious text, meditation retreat, spiritual awakening 15 (3.0) 1.20 (0.75) .27 (0.81) −.27 (1.38) 8. Other or unclassifiable events Going to jail, buying a home 25 (5.0) .32 (1.35) .04 (0.92) −.01 (1.14) Event type Examples Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events Dating, marriage, divorce, interpersonal conflict 156 (31.1) 1.21 (0.94) −.34 (1.30) −.39 (1.35) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events Death, serious illness, accident or injury, physical or sexual assault, natural disaster 138 (27.5) 1.69 (0.63) −1.56 (0.65) −1.61 (0.66) 3. Career, occupation, or job events New job or promotion, job loss or change, passing a qualifying exam, starting a business, retirement 69 (13.7) .76 (0.95) −.31 (0.91) −.12 (0.95) 4. Formal or informal learning events Classroom instruction, independent study, receiving advice or mentorship, psychotherapy 46 (9.2) .33 (1.25) .12 (0.91) .09 (0.91) 5. Recreation, leisure, or short-term travel events Sporting event, entertainment, birthday party, vacation or holiday 17 (3.4) −.57 (0.92) .53 (0.78) .12 (0.35) 6. Sojourn, permanent relocation, or immigration events Student exchange, moving across the country, starting a new life abroad 16 (3.2) 1.23 (0.97) −.52 (1.09) −.58 (0.98) 7. Religious or spiritual events Attending religious service, studying a religious text, meditation retreat, spiritual awakening 15 (3.0) 1.20 (0.75) .27 (0.81) −.27 (1.38) 8. Other or unclassifiable events Going to jail, buying a home 25 (5.0) .32 (1.35) .04 (0.92) −.01 (1.14) Note: Event characteristics were scored on scales ranging from −2 to 2. View Large Table 2. Descriptive Statistics for Wisdom-Fostering Event Types and Characteristics with Examples Event type Examples Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events Dating, marriage, divorce, interpersonal conflict 156 (31.1) 1.21 (0.94) −.34 (1.30) −.39 (1.35) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events Death, serious illness, accident or injury, physical or sexual assault, natural disaster 138 (27.5) 1.69 (0.63) −1.56 (0.65) −1.61 (0.66) 3. Career, occupation, or job events New job or promotion, job loss or change, passing a qualifying exam, starting a business, retirement 69 (13.7) .76 (0.95) −.31 (0.91) −.12 (0.95) 4. Formal or informal learning events Classroom instruction, independent study, receiving advice or mentorship, psychotherapy 46 (9.2) .33 (1.25) .12 (0.91) .09 (0.91) 5. Recreation, leisure, or short-term travel events Sporting event, entertainment, birthday party, vacation or holiday 17 (3.4) −.57 (0.92) .53 (0.78) .12 (0.35) 6. Sojourn, permanent relocation, or immigration events Student exchange, moving across the country, starting a new life abroad 16 (3.2) 1.23 (0.97) −.52 (1.09) −.58 (0.98) 7. Religious or spiritual events Attending religious service, studying a religious text, meditation retreat, spiritual awakening 15 (3.0) 1.20 (0.75) .27 (0.81) −.27 (1.38) 8. Other or unclassifiable events Going to jail, buying a home 25 (5.0) .32 (1.35) .04 (0.92) −.01 (1.14) Event type Examples Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events Dating, marriage, divorce, interpersonal conflict 156 (31.1) 1.21 (0.94) −.34 (1.30) −.39 (1.35) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events Death, serious illness, accident or injury, physical or sexual assault, natural disaster 138 (27.5) 1.69 (0.63) −1.56 (0.65) −1.61 (0.66) 3. Career, occupation, or job events New job or promotion, job loss or change, passing a qualifying exam, starting a business, retirement 69 (13.7) .76 (0.95) −.31 (0.91) −.12 (0.95) 4. Formal or informal learning events Classroom instruction, independent study, receiving advice or mentorship, psychotherapy 46 (9.2) .33 (1.25) .12 (0.91) .09 (0.91) 5. Recreation, leisure, or short-term travel events Sporting event, entertainment, birthday party, vacation or holiday 17 (3.4) −.57 (0.92) .53 (0.78) .12 (0.35) 6. Sojourn, permanent relocation, or immigration events Student exchange, moving across the country, starting a new life abroad 16 (3.2) 1.23 (0.97) −.52 (1.09) −.58 (0.98) 7. Religious or spiritual events Attending religious service, studying a religious text, meditation retreat, spiritual awakening 15 (3.0) 1.20 (0.75) .27 (0.81) −.27 (1.38) 8. Other or unclassifiable events Going to jail, buying a home 25 (5.0) .32 (1.35) .04 (0.92) −.01 (1.14) Note: Event characteristics were scored on scales ranging from −2 to 2. View Large Table 3. Descriptive Statistics for Subtypes of High-Frequency Wisdom-Fostering Events Event type Event sub-type Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events (κ = .73) a. Interpersonal conflict, struggle, or rejection 58 (37.2) .73 (0.90) −.90 (0.56) −.45 (1.01) b. Divorce, separation, or break-up 42 (26.9) 1.68 (0.40) −1.37 (0.53) −1.58 (0.54) c. Becoming a parent or grandparent 29 (18.6) 1.79 (0.61) 1.61 (0.54) .97 (1.34) d. Relationship-building, marriage, or dating 14 (9.0) 1.38 (0.69) 1.05 (0.93) .64 (1.36) e. Other relationship event 13 (8.3) .38 (1.46) −.38 (1.01) −.44 (0.92) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events (κ = .88) a. Death 65 (47.1) 1.91 (0.27) −1.93 (0.21) −1.61 (0.77) b. Serious illness or health concern 33 (23.9) 1.66 (0.55) −1.32 (0.54) −1.72 (0.44) c. Accident, injury, or assault 23 (16.7) 1.30 (1.02) −1.46 (0.53) −1.49 (0.59) d. Addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) 8 (5.8) 1.42 (0.77) −.17 (1.11) −1.33 (0.78) e. Other life-threatening or mortality event 9 (6.5) 1.41 (0.81) −1.19 (0.60) −1.74 (0.46) 3. Career, occupation, or job events (κ = .76) a. Job loss, struggle, or setback 40 (58.0) .87 (0.93) −.96 (0.36) −.60 (0.84) b. Job gain, achievement, or mastery 29 (42.0) .62 (0.99) .59 (0.63) .55 (0.62) 4. Formal and informal learning events (κ = .88) a. Receiving sage advice or mentorship 16 (34.8) .40 (1.03) −.13 (0.91) .08 (0.95) b. Formal education (e.g., classroom instruction) 14 (30.4) .76 (1.30) .45 (0.86) .24 (1.08) c. Self-directed learning (e.g., listening to radio show) 8 (17.4) −.04 (1.67) .54 (0.75) −.13 (0.96) d. Behavioral transgression at school 5 (10.9) −.20 (0.69) −.93 (0.37) −.07 (0.43) e. Other learning experience 3 (6.5) −.22 (1.58) .44 (0.51) .22 (0.19) Event type Event sub-type Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events (κ = .73) a. Interpersonal conflict, struggle, or rejection 58 (37.2) .73 (0.90) −.90 (0.56) −.45 (1.01) b. Divorce, separation, or break-up 42 (26.9) 1.68 (0.40) −1.37 (0.53) −1.58 (0.54) c. Becoming a parent or grandparent 29 (18.6) 1.79 (0.61) 1.61 (0.54) .97 (1.34) d. Relationship-building, marriage, or dating 14 (9.0) 1.38 (0.69) 1.05 (0.93) .64 (1.36) e. Other relationship event 13 (8.3) .38 (1.46) −.38 (1.01) −.44 (0.92) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events (κ = .88) a. Death 65 (47.1) 1.91 (0.27) −1.93 (0.21) −1.61 (0.77) b. Serious illness or health concern 33 (23.9) 1.66 (0.55) −1.32 (0.54) −1.72 (0.44) c. Accident, injury, or assault 23 (16.7) 1.30 (1.02) −1.46 (0.53) −1.49 (0.59) d. Addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) 8 (5.8) 1.42 (0.77) −.17 (1.11) −1.33 (0.78) e. Other life-threatening or mortality event 9 (6.5) 1.41 (0.81) −1.19 (0.60) −1.74 (0.46) 3. Career, occupation, or job events (κ = .76) a. Job loss, struggle, or setback 40 (58.0) .87 (0.93) −.96 (0.36) −.60 (0.84) b. Job gain, achievement, or mastery 29 (42.0) .62 (0.99) .59 (0.63) .55 (0.62) 4. Formal and informal learning events (κ = .88) a. Receiving sage advice or mentorship 16 (34.8) .40 (1.03) −.13 (0.91) .08 (0.95) b. Formal education (e.g., classroom instruction) 14 (30.4) .76 (1.30) .45 (0.86) .24 (1.08) c. Self-directed learning (e.g., listening to radio show) 8 (17.4) −.04 (1.67) .54 (0.75) −.13 (0.96) d. Behavioral transgression at school 5 (10.9) −.20 (0.69) −.93 (0.37) −.07 (0.43) e. Other learning experience 3 (6.5) −.22 (1.58) .44 (0.51) .22 (0.19) Note: Event characteristics were scored on scales ranging from −2 to 2. Inter-rater reliability is presented as Cohen’s kappa (κ). View Large Table 3. Descriptive Statistics for Subtypes of High-Frequency Wisdom-Fostering Events Event type Event sub-type Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events (κ = .73) a. Interpersonal conflict, struggle, or rejection 58 (37.2) .73 (0.90) −.90 (0.56) −.45 (1.01) b. Divorce, separation, or break-up 42 (26.9) 1.68 (0.40) −1.37 (0.53) −1.58 (0.54) c. Becoming a parent or grandparent 29 (18.6) 1.79 (0.61) 1.61 (0.54) .97 (1.34) d. Relationship-building, marriage, or dating 14 (9.0) 1.38 (0.69) 1.05 (0.93) .64 (1.36) e. Other relationship event 13 (8.3) .38 (1.46) −.38 (1.01) −.44 (0.92) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events (κ = .88) a. Death 65 (47.1) 1.91 (0.27) −1.93 (0.21) −1.61 (0.77) b. Serious illness or health concern 33 (23.9) 1.66 (0.55) −1.32 (0.54) −1.72 (0.44) c. Accident, injury, or assault 23 (16.7) 1.30 (1.02) −1.46 (0.53) −1.49 (0.59) d. Addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) 8 (5.8) 1.42 (0.77) −.17 (1.11) −1.33 (0.78) e. Other life-threatening or mortality event 9 (6.5) 1.41 (0.81) −1.19 (0.60) −1.74 (0.46) 3. Career, occupation, or job events (κ = .76) a. Job loss, struggle, or setback 40 (58.0) .87 (0.93) −.96 (0.36) −.60 (0.84) b. Job gain, achievement, or mastery 29 (42.0) .62 (0.99) .59 (0.63) .55 (0.62) 4. Formal and informal learning events (κ = .88) a. Receiving sage advice or mentorship 16 (34.8) .40 (1.03) −.13 (0.91) .08 (0.95) b. Formal education (e.g., classroom instruction) 14 (30.4) .76 (1.30) .45 (0.86) .24 (1.08) c. Self-directed learning (e.g., listening to radio show) 8 (17.4) −.04 (1.67) .54 (0.75) −.13 (0.96) d. Behavioral transgression at school 5 (10.9) −.20 (0.69) −.93 (0.37) −.07 (0.43) e. Other learning experience 3 (6.5) −.22 (1.58) .44 (0.51) .22 (0.19) Event type Event sub-type Frequency n (%) Event characteristics Fundamentality M (SD) Emotional valence M (SD) Cultural normativity M (SD) 1. Relationship events (κ = .73) a. Interpersonal conflict, struggle, or rejection 58 (37.2) .73 (0.90) −.90 (0.56) −.45 (1.01) b. Divorce, separation, or break-up 42 (26.9) 1.68 (0.40) −1.37 (0.53) −1.58 (0.54) c. Becoming a parent or grandparent 29 (18.6) 1.79 (0.61) 1.61 (0.54) .97 (1.34) d. Relationship-building, marriage, or dating 14 (9.0) 1.38 (0.69) 1.05 (0.93) .64 (1.36) e. Other relationship event 13 (8.3) .38 (1.46) −.38 (1.01) −.44 (0.92) 2. Life-threatening and mortality events (κ = .88) a. Death 65 (47.1) 1.91 (0.27) −1.93 (0.21) −1.61 (0.77) b. Serious illness or health concern 33 (23.9) 1.66 (0.55) −1.32 (0.54) −1.72 (0.44) c. Accident, injury, or assault 23 (16.7) 1.30 (1.02) −1.46 (0.53) −1.49 (0.59) d. Addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) 8 (5.8) 1.42 (0.77) −.17 (1.11) −1.33 (0.78) e. Other life-threatening or mortality event 9 (6.5) 1.41 (0.81) −1.19 (0.60) −1.74 (0.46) 3. Career, occupation, or job events (κ = .76) a. Job loss, struggle, or setback 40 (58.0) .87 (0.93) −.96 (0.36) −.60 (0.84) b. Job gain, achievement, or mastery 29 (42.0) .62 (0.99) .59 (0.63) .55 (0.62) 4. Formal and informal learning events (κ = .88) a. Receiving sage advice or mentorship 16 (34.8) .40 (1.03) −.13 (0.91) .08 (0.95) b. Formal education (e.g., classroom instruction) 14 (30.4) .76 (1.30) .45 (0.86) .24 (1.08) c. Self-directed learning (e.g., listening to radio show) 8 (17.4) −.04 (1.67) .54 (0.75) −.13 (0.96) d. Behavioral transgression at school 5 (10.9) −.20 (0.69) −.93 (0.37) −.07 (0.43) e. Other learning experience 3 (6.5) −.22 (1.58) .44 (0.51) .22 (0.19) Note: Event characteristics were scored on scales ranging from −2 to 2. Inter-rater reliability is presented as Cohen’s kappa (κ). View Large Event characteristics To capture fundamentality, cultural normativity, and emotional valence, coders scored each event as it would be experienced by the average person in society, drawing on their general knowledge of an event’s meaning in North American culture (three coders per event characteristic). Fundamentality Fundamentality was defined as the extent to which an event is significant, core, or central to human life and well-being (e.g., falling in love, getting into a serious accident), compared to events that are mundane or inconsequential (e.g., passing a routine test, attending a birthday party). Fundamentality was rated on a bipolar scale from −2 (very inconsequential to human life) to 2 (very fundamental to human life). Cultural normativity Cultural normativity was defined as the perceived likelihood that the average person in society would experience an event over the course of their lifespan. Culturally normative events make up the stereotypical life script (e.g., attending school, getting married). In contrast, culturally non-normative events are unexpected or unique (e.g., getting robbed, surviving a house fire). Coders used a bipolar scale from −2 (very non-normative) to 2 (very normative). Emotional valence Emotional valence was defined as the extent to which an event would evoke a positive (e.g., adopting a pet, becoming a grandparent) or negative (e.g., being diagnosed with a serious illness, getting divorced) emotional response at the time of the event’s occurrence. Coders used a bipolar scale from −2 (very negative) to 2 (very positive) to score emotional valence, taking the perspective of the average person in society (Lilgendahl & McAdams, 2011). The middle point of the scale represented an event that was emotionally neutral or mixed in emotion (i.e., equal parts positive and negative). Background analyses indicated that emotional valence and cultural normativity were substantially positively skewed, and fundamentality was substantially negatively skewed. To correct skew, appropriate logarithmic transformations were computed (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013), and transformed variables were used for all inferential analyses. Narrative coherence Narrative coherence was scored using Reese et al.’s (2011),Narrative Coherence Coding System. In this model, narrative coherence is conceptualized as a multidimensional construct that has three facets: contextual coherence, defined as the extent to which the narrator established a specific time and place for the story; chronological coherence, defined as the extent to which story actions or events could be placed on a timeline; and thematic coherence, defined as the extent to which a narrative remained on topic and lacked digression. In Reese et al.’s (2011) coding scheme, thematic coherence also includes interpretations and causal linkages between aspects of the event and the self; however, these narrative characteristics are ordinarily considered aspects of narrative processing rather than structure. To avoid confounding narrative structure with process, for the present study, these characteristics were not scored as indicators of thematic coherence. Each dimension was scored from 0 to 3, with higher scores representing greater coherence. Six coders scored narrative coherence (two coders per dimension). Scores for each dimension were derived from the average of the two coders. The three coherence scores were then averaged to form a global coherence score. Meaning-making Meaning-making was defined as an exploratory process through which individuals consciously searched a life event for new or deeper understandings of the self, relationships, or life in general. Meanings could range from situation-specific behavioural lessons to fundamental insights about the self or world. Meaning-making was scored by three coders on a scale from 0 to 4, with higher scores indicating greater meaning. Depth of meaning was judged by how reflective, elaborate, impactful, integrated, and complex the meaning was. In contrast to alternative coding schemes (e.g., McLean & Pratt, 2006; McLean & Thorne, 2003), this scheme did not assume that behavioural lessons were less sophisticated than profound insights—both lessons and insights could vary in terms of depth of meaning. The three coders’ scores were averaged to form an overall meaning-making score. Personal growth Personal growth was defined as positive self-transformation over the long-term (Lilgendahl & McAdams, 2011; Pals, 2006). The narrator could attribute growth to the event itself, to what happened as a result of the event, or to the experience of reflecting back on the event from the standpoint of the present. In all cases, however, the event was the source of growth (i.e., the event was seen as stimulating or causing personal growth). In narratives where personal growth was present, the author conveyed that they were in some way stronger, healthier, better, or more mature as a result of the event. Personal growth was scored on a scale from 0 to 3, with higher scores assigned to memories where personal growth was a strong theme. The coders’ scores were averaged to create an overall personal growth score. Results Of the 502 participants in the sample, 482 provided a wisdom-fostering event memory. Autobiographical memories ranged in length from 10 to 1,688 words, with an average 209.26 (SD = 159.04) words. The average age at event occurrence was 32.77 (SD = 12.46), with a range of 5–62 years of age. Fundamental and culturally non-normative wisdom-fostering life events tended to occur at later ages in the life span, whereas emotional valence was unrelated to age at event occurrence (see Table 1). Narrative Content in Wisdom-Fostering Life Event Memories General characteristics of wisdom-fostering life events As expected, average ratings of wisdom-fostering life events tended to be somewhat negative (M = −0.58, SD = 1.19), quite fundamental (M = 1.09, SD = 1.07), and somewhat culturally non-normative (M = −0.62, SD = 1.22), although the standard deviations suggest substantial variability (see Figure 1). Notably, emotional valence and cultural normativity had a strong positive correlation, suggesting that these two event characteristics may be indistinguishable empirically—events that conform to the cultural life script tend to be positive, events that disrupt the life script are negative. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Mean levels of three wisdom-fostering event characteristics scored in autobiographical memories by expert raters on bipolar scales ranging from −2 (trivial, non-normative, emotionally negative) to 2 (fundamental, normative, emotionally positive). Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Mean levels of three wisdom-fostering event characteristics scored in autobiographical memories by expert raters on bipolar scales ranging from −2 (trivial, non-normative, emotionally negative) to 2 (fundamental, normative, emotionally positive). Specific types of wisdom-fostering life events To investigate the specific types of experiences reported, narratives were coded for their primary event type by two expert coders. Events were scored as belonging to one of seven possible event categories listed in Table 2, along with descriptive statistics and examples. The four highest frequency event types were also scored for sub-types, which are presented in Table 3 with descriptive statistics. Event types and characteristics in relation to level of wisdom Unexpectedly, wisdom was unrelated to emotional valence and cultural normativity (see Table 1). Fundamentality had a small positive linear relationship with general wisdom performance, but was uncorrelated with self-report wisdom and personal wisdom performance. Probing these relationships further, we conducted follow-up analyses to test the possibility that the participants’ age when the wisdom-fostering event occurred would moderate the relationship between life-event characteristics and wisdom. A hierarchical regression analysis showed that personal wisdom performance was predicted by the interaction of age at event occurrence and event fundamentality, β = .09, t(477) = 1.99, p = .047 (see Figure 2). The highest levels of personal wisdom were associated with individuals who reported gaining wisdom from highly fundamental events at later ages. All other interaction analyses between age at event occurrence and event characteristics were nonsignificant. Given the unequal number of men and women in the study, gender was included as a control variable in these analyses. Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Interaction plot illustrating that the association between personal wisdom and wisdom-fostering event fundamentality was moderated by the age at which the event occurred. The possible range for personal wisdom performance was 1 (very unwise) to 6 (very wise). Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Interaction plot illustrating that the association between personal wisdom and wisdom-fostering event fundamentality was moderated by the age at which the event occurred. The possible range for personal wisdom performance was 1 (very unwise) to 6 (very wise). To examine whether wiser people were more likely to report certain events over others, two analyses of variance were conducted, with separate analyses conducted for the self-report and performance measures of wisdom, both controlling for gender. First, a univariate analysis of variance was conducted with event type as the independent variable and the self-report wisdom composite as the dependent variable, and second, a one-way multivariate analysis of variance was conducted with the general and personal wisdom performance measures as the dependent variables. For these analyses, only the four high-frequency event categories were included, because other event categories were not expected to yield reliable estimates due to low frequencies. Contrary to our hypothesis, the univariate, F(3, 404) = 0.353, p = .787, ηp2 = .003, and multivariate, F(6, 806) = 1.435, p = .198, ηp2 = .011, models were nonsignificant, indicating that level of wisdom did not differ according to event type. Narrative Structure and Process in Wisdom-Fostering Event Memories Narrative structure and process in relation to level of wisdom Narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth were all positively associated with each other (see Table 1 for intercorrelations among narrative variables and descriptive statistics). As hypothesized, all types of wisdom were positively correlated with narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth (see Table 1). To assess the reconstructive and analytical components of Staudinger’s (2001) model of self-reflection, a series of hierarchical regression analyses were conducted with word count and gender entered as control variables in step one of the models, narrative coherence entered in step two, and either meaning-making or personal growth entered in step three. Results are summarized in Table 4. Supporting Staudinger’s model and our hypothesis, meaning-making and personal growth predicted incremental variance in measures of wisdom above and beyond narrative coherence. Meaning-making accounted for an additional 1%–2% of variance in general and personal wisdom performance, and personal growth accounted for an additional 1%–4% of variance across the three wisdom measures. Table 4. Hierarchical Regression Analyses Showing Incremental Prediction of Wisdom by Narrative Processing Self-report wisdom General wisdom performance Personal wisdom performance Predictor variables ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β Step 1: Models A and B  Word count  Gender .05** .00 (.00) −0.21 (.08) .17** −.12** .15** .00 (.00) −0.32 (.11) .33** −.20** .03** .00 (.00) −0.07 (.06) .16** −.06 Step 2: Models A and B  Narrative coherence .01 .13 (.08) .09 .01 .13 (.07) .09 .01* .15 (.06) .14* Step 3: Model A  Meaning-making .00 .02 (.05) .02 .01* .11 (.04) .11* .02** .12 (.04) .15** Step 3: Model B  Personal growth .01** .13 (.05) .12** .04** .20 (.04) .20** .04** .17 (.04) .22** Self-report wisdom General wisdom performance Personal wisdom performance Predictor variables ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β Step 1: Models A and B  Word count  Gender .05** .00 (.00) −0.21 (.08) .17** −.12** .15** .00 (.00) −0.32 (.11) .33** −.20** .03** .00 (.00) −0.07 (.06) .16** −.06 Step 2: Models A and B  Narrative coherence .01 .13 (.08) .09 .01 .13 (.07) .09 .01* .15 (.06) .14* Step 3: Model A  Meaning-making .00 .02 (.05) .02 .01* .11 (.04) .11* .02** .12 (.04) .15** Step 3: Model B  Personal growth .01** .13 (.05) .12** .04** .20 (.04) .20** .04** .17 (.04) .22** Note: In the above analyses, female is coded as 0 and male is coded as 1. *p ≤ .05. **p < .01. View Large Table 4. Hierarchical Regression Analyses Showing Incremental Prediction of Wisdom by Narrative Processing Self-report wisdom General wisdom performance Personal wisdom performance Predictor variables ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β Step 1: Models A and B  Word count  Gender .05** .00 (.00) −0.21 (.08) .17** −.12** .15** .00 (.00) −0.32 (.11) .33** −.20** .03** .00 (.00) −0.07 (.06) .16** −.06 Step 2: Models A and B  Narrative coherence .01 .13 (.08) .09 .01 .13 (.07) .09 .01* .15 (.06) .14* Step 3: Model A  Meaning-making .00 .02 (.05) .02 .01* .11 (.04) .11* .02** .12 (.04) .15** Step 3: Model B  Personal growth .01** .13 (.05) .12** .04** .20 (.04) .20** .04** .17 (.04) .22** Self-report wisdom General wisdom performance Personal wisdom performance Predictor variables ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β ΔR2 B (SE) β Step 1: Models A and B  Word count  Gender .05** .00 (.00) −0.21 (.08) .17** −.12** .15** .00 (.00) −0.32 (.11) .33** −.20** .03** .00 (.00) −0.07 (.06) .16** −.06 Step 2: Models A and B  Narrative coherence .01 .13 (.08) .09 .01 .13 (.07) .09 .01* .15 (.06) .14* Step 3: Model A  Meaning-making .00 .02 (.05) .02 .01* .11 (.04) .11* .02** .12 (.04) .15** Step 3: Model B  Personal growth .01** .13 (.05) .12** .04** .20 (.04) .20** .04** .17 (.04) .22** Note: In the above analyses, female is coded as 0 and male is coded as 1. *p ≤ .05. **p < .01. View Large Narrative structure and process in relation to event content The final set of analyses examined the extent to which narrative structure and process varied as a function of wisdom-fostering event characteristics and types. Results showed that narrative coherence and meaning-making were negatively associated with emotional valence and cultural normativity, and fundamentality was positively associated with personal growth (see Table 1), providing substantial support for our hypotheses. In terms of specific event types, a one-way multivariate analysis of variance was conducted with event type as the independent variable and narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth as the dependent variables. For this analysis, only the four high-frequency event types were included, and gender was included as a covariate. The overall model was significant, F(9, 978.51) = 4.475, p < .01, ηp2 = .032. Significant mean differences were detected across event types for meaning-making, F(3, 404) = 6.848, p < .01, ηp2 = .048, but not the other narrative variables. To inspect differences across event types, Bonferroni-corrected pairwise comparisons were conducted. Results showed that life-threatening and mortality events and relationship events contained higher levels of meaning-making than formal and informal learning experiences (ps < .01). Discussion Laypersons and experts have long believed that one pathway to wisdom is through successfully navigating the vicissitudes of life. But what specific life experiences are most likely to facilitate the development of wisdom and through what psychological mechanisms? By investigating autobiographical memories of wisdom-fostering life events, this study systematically extends a small collection of research that has examined wisdom in relation to naturally-occurring life experiences. What Types of Life Experience Foster Wisdom? A qualitative analysis of autobiographical memories yielded seven primary wisdom-fostering event types, representing a diverse range of life experiences. Despite this diversity, the four highest frequency event types accounted for 82% of the data. These were (a) relationship events, (b) life-threatening and mortality events, (c) career, occupation, and job events, and (d) formal and informal learning experiences. In order to probe this rich data further, the wisdom-fostering event memories were scored for three life-event characteristics: fundamentality, cultural normativity, and emotional valence. This analysis provided a sketch of the prototypical wisdom-fostering life experience—on average, participants reported developing wisdom from fundamental, emotionally negative, and culturally non-normative life events. High-frequency exemplars of this general event prototype included untimely death, serious illness and injury, divorce and separation, interpersonal conflict, and job loss. In general, individuals strongly associated wisdom with life’s more harrowing experiences, which is consistent with other research on laypeople’s conceptions of wisdom (Glück & Bluck, 2011) and theoretical models of wisdom (e.g., Glück & Bluck, 2013; Webster, 2007). There was some correspondence between participant’s level of wisdom and characteristics of the wisdom-fostering events they reported. General wisdom performance and event fundamentality were positively related, which is consistent with the idea that general wisdom is both applied to fundamental life situations, and grows out of them as well (Baltes & Staudinger, 1993). Interestingly, the relationship between event fundamentality and personal wisdom performance was moderated by the age at which the event occurred. The wisest participants reported gaining wisdom from highly fundamental events that occurred later in their lifespan rather than earlier. The probability of experiencing certain types of fundamental events increases with age (e.g., divorce, illness, job loss), and wiser people, or people who have the potential to become wise, are particularly well positioned to grow from them, given personal resources such as advanced self-reflective abilities (Glück & Bluck, 2013), which are likely to improve with age. These results suggest that of the three life-event characteristics examined in this study, fundamentality may be the key feature of a wisdom-fostering event. With this said, the life-event characteristics were significantly interrelated, such that emotionally negative and culturally non-normative events were more fundamental than positive or normative events. Although these findings are suggestive, the effect sizes are small, which is consistent with other research that has found weak associations between subjective theories of wisdom and actual wisdom (Weststrate, Ferrari, & Ardelt, 2016). The prototypical wisdom-fostering event that we observed in this study may simply reflect stereotypical beliefs about the types of experiences that are thought to make people wiser. In general, it appears that people who have the personal resources to become wise can construct wisdom from many different types of life experiences, suggesting that psychological characteristics may be more important than experiential contexts when it comes to developing wisdom, which we discuss further in the next section. For now, consider the following prototypical example of a highly negative, fundamental, and culturally non-normative event that was reported by a 46-year-old woman, from an event that occurred at age 22: It was the best worst day of my life. Laying on the shower floor, bewildered, finding safety in the solitude as warm water rained over me. My fiancée had come over after work. Things had been rocky for months, and he was increasingly more critical and controlling of everything I did. But expectations where mounting. Parents expected a wedding. There were wifely duties to be fulfilled, and I was failing at most turns. The cooking wasn’t good enough, the apartment had to be spotless, there was no room for error. Charlie arrived in a foul mood. We were meant to go out for a romantic evening. It was anything but. He answered the welcoming kiss by throwing me to the floor and assaulting me. In the horror of that moment, I woke up to the reality of who he truly was. The man I fell in love with was a fiction, and illusion of who he wanted to be; who I wanted him to be was shattered. The reality of him, sneering insults with his knee grinding into my back and the carpet burning my face, was an angry bully. Petty. Small. I managed to wriggle free, pulled my knees to my chest. Sitting up like a fortified stone, I quietly growled, “You will never touch me again.” He left, and I sat there alone, still hugging my knees against my naked chest as the afternoon light gave way to dusk and darkness. Eventually I crawled into the shower, sobbing, finding solace in the warm water and steam that caressed and soothed. For months, he had criticized relentlessly, and tried to break my spirit. He peeled me like a rose and found nothing there. That night he tried to break me physically. Ironically, in his effort to destroy me, he made me stronger. In trying to make me more submissive, I become more independent. In that moment, I found me. This is a remarkable story of growth and transformation through adversity. This narrative exemplifies a genre of wisdom-fostering events involving shattered expectations and disillusionment with life. Through challenging life events, participants achieve clearer perspectives on their own situations without becoming bitter or cynical about lost possibilities. People on this path to wisdom commonly report feeling grateful for the growth and clarity that hardship brings, although they do not always report being happier (Webster et al., 2017; Weststrate & Glück, 2017). While the majority of wisdom-fostering events followed this general storyline—a master narrative of wisdom development (e.g., McLean & Syed, 2015)—it was not exclusively the case. There were many other examples where participants derived great wisdom from highly positive events. For instance, the birth of a child or grandchild often led to a fundamental shift in the participants’ worldviews, producing a deeper appreciation of the meaning of life, a new life philosophy, or a renewed sense of purpose. Glück and Bluck (2013) proposed that people high in the MORE resources are likely to grow from both positive and negative events, so long as the event involves a fundamental challenge of some kind. The birth of a child is undoubtedly challenging, albeit emotionally positive. Although wisdom is ordinarily associated with fundamental, non-normative, and emotionally negative life experiences, there were many examples in this study were individuals constructed wisdom from relatively trivial life experiences (e.g., a fishing trip, reading a novel, attending a birthday party). This speaks to situational and personal determinants of wisdom: Some life events provide optimal conditions for the construction of wisdom, but individual differences in psychological characteristics greatly influence wisdom development, such as the ability to think deeply, abstractly, and perhaps allegorically about seemingly mundane life events, in order to extract higher-order lessons and insights that can be applied to future situations. To address the personal factors that might facilitate or constrain growth in wisdom from life events, the present study examined individual differences in self-reflective processing. How Do Wise People Construct Wisdom from Life Experience? To examine individual differences in self-reflective processing, wisdom-fostering event memories were scored for reconstructive (i.e., narrative coherence) and analytical (i.e., meaning-making, personal growth) components of self-reflection. As expected, wiser individuals told more coherent memories that contained higher levels of meaning-making and stronger themes of personal growth. These findings replicate past research that found a positive association between analytical forms of narrative processing and wisdom (Webster et al., 2017; Weststrate & Glück, 2017), and extend past research by showing that wisdom is also positively associated with structural aspects of memories, specifically, narrative coherence. Moreover, supporting Staudinger’s (2001) model, analytical forms of self-reflection provided incremental prediction of variance in wisdom above and beyond reconstructive or structural aspects. Thus, wiser people were more likely than others to engage in high-quality event reconstruction and analysis. These self-reflective tendencies are likely to represent a mechanism through which wisdom is derived from life experience. Self-reflection was related to both personal and general wisdom, suggesting that insights gained from autobiographical experiences may translate to life in general (Staudinger, 2013). After controlling for narrative length and gender, we found that narrative coherence, meaning-making, and personal growth were more strongly correlated with personal than general wisdom, as one might expect, although the differences were small. While these self-reflective processes are expected to be largely dispositional, they also vary as a function of event characteristics. First, life-threatening and mortality events and relationship events contained higher levels of meaning-making than other events. Second, emotionally negative and culturally non-normative events were remembered in more coherent and meaningful terms than other events, and fundamental events contained more personal growth. It is likely that these types of events require greater effort spent on narrative reconstruction and analysis, either to repair disrupted expectations of life, or possibly to create a meaningful self-story when no cultural master narrative is available for sense-making (McLean et al., 2017). Thus, not only are fundamental, culturally non-normative, and emotionally negative events subjectively associated with wisdom development by laypersons, they were also more likely to involve sophisticated levels of self-reflective processing that have been positively associated with wisdom in this study and elsewhere (Webster et al., 2017; Weststrate & Glück, 2017). We conclude that both person and life-event characteristics influence wisdom development, although not equally. The results of this study suggest that for highly self-reflective people, wisdom can be constructed from many types of life experience. Certain types of life experience, however, may indirectly influence wisdom development by inducing more intensive self-reflection and providing better subject matter for the construction of wisdom. Future research should explore the independent and interactive contributions of self-reflection and exposure to certain types of life events on the development of wisdom. Limitations and Future Research Although this sample was quite diverse with respect to household income and geographic location in the United States, the participants were especially homogenous with respect to race/ethnicity (81.9% white), limiting the generalizability of the results to other populations. A limitation of the design of this study concerns the collection of only one wisdom-fostering event memory. Future research should sample multiple memories from each participant to access a representative cross-section of wisdom-fostering life events. Repeated exposure to certain types of life events may be the key determinant of wisdom development rather than singular experiences. The naive approach to scoring personal and general wisdom is relatively untested (for exceptions, see Smith & Baltes, 1990; Staudinger et al., 1992), therefore, results should be interpreted with this limitation in mind. This study suggests, however, that the naive approach may be a promising alternative when resources are limited and a performance measure of wisdom is desired. Future research should also investigate wisdom-fostering event memories for the specific lessons and insights gleaned by wise people. The present study has shown that wiser participants imbue their memories with meaning, but what is it, exactly, that wiser people have learned about life that others have not? Translating this knowledge for laypeople to consider could be one way to create a world with wiser people in it. Conclusion This is the first study to examine subjective theories of wisdom development within the context of real-life, autobiographical experiences. Results demonstrated that people tend to report gaining wisdom from fundamental, emotionally negative, and culturally non-normative life events, and that wiser participants tend to engage in high-quality self-reflection on wisdom-fostering life experiences. We conclude by emphasizing the importance of further examining the independent and joint influences of persons and environments on the genesis of wisdom. Life may provide optimal contexts for growth in wisdom, but individuals must still do the hard work of constructing it. References Adler , J. M. , Lodi-Smith , J. , Philippe , F. L. , & Houle , I . ( 2016 ). The incremental validity of narrative identity in predicting well-being: A review of the field and recommendations for the future . 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The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social SciencesOxford University Press

Published: Feb 20, 2018

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