Baltes' main goal was to come up with a system that allowed him to quantitatively measure wisdom. His main obstacle was differentiating between wisdom and intelligence. After studying philosophical and religious texts, Baltes came up with five criteria to assess wisdom.
Five Criteria to Assess Wisdom:
- Factual knowledge: Knowing the 'whats' of the human condition and human nature
- Procedural knowledge: Strategies for solving life's problems
- Lifespan contextualism: Knowledge of life's settings and social situations and how they change overtime
- Relativism of values: Being aware of cultural differences and being considerate and sensitive to different values
- Awareness and management of uncertainty: Recognizing the limits of knowledge, and understanding the uncertainty of the future
Berlin Wisdom Model
After coming up with certain criteria, Baltes implemented them in the Berlin Wisdom Model experiments. He measured levels of wisdom by presenting challenging, hypothetical life dilemmas to research participants. The participants sit in front of a panel of judges and describe aloud how the problem should be handled and solved. They are encouraged to think aloud to show their thought process. Based on how much their answer fit criteria above, they are scored on a scale of 1 to 7.
Example Question Presented to Research Participants
"A 14 year old girl wants to move out of her house right away. What should be considered in this situation?"
"She's only 14 years old! She should never be aloud to move out. She's too young to make such a big decision."
The participant failed to show any of the five criteria above. They didn't think about the details of what could be going on in this girl's life, and just focused on her age.
"She is really young, but she might live in an abusive home and need to move to a safer environment. Perhaps her parents are too poor to afford food. Also, it might depend on her culture. She may be in an unhappy arranged marriage in some cultures at that age."
This participant understood how varied her situation could be. They looked past her age and noted the different social, cultural, and economical situations that would validate her need to leave.
It is important to note that the Berlin Wisdom Model measures knowledge-related wisdom. Since then, Baltes began to expand his research to include how knowledge-related wisdom may direct practical wisdom: understanding how to live a life that matters.