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What kind of personality traits do wise individuals have? To answer this question, the first step is to define wisdom scientifically. However, although psychological research on wisdom has been conducted since the 1970s, there is no uniform definition of wisdom, owing to its complexity (Weststrate, Ferrari, & Ardelt, 2016). An integration of representative definitions of wisdom, such as the Berlin wisdom paradigm (Baltes & Staudinger, 2000), the balance theory of wisdom (Sternberg, 1998), and Ardelt's (2003) three-dimensional wisdom theory, demonstrates that in a psychological context, wisdom generally integrates morality and intelligence, such that, at its essence, wisdom is an alloy of these two qualities (Staudinger & Gluck, 2011). Therefore, wisdom can be described as a comprehensive psychological trait integrating virtue and intelligence (F. Wang & Zheng, 2014).

As wisdom is closely associated with personality traits (Gluck et al., 2013), it is important to approach wisdom from this perspective. For example, Ardelt (2003) developed a three-dimensional model in which it is asserted that wisdom is a personality trait consisting of three dimensions: cognitive, reflexive, and affective. Other researchers have found that personality traits, such as self-transcendence and openness to experience, are associated with wisdom (Levenson, Jennings, Aldwin, & Shiraishi, 2005). In addition, Takahashi and Bordia (2000) stated that the conceptualization of wisdom in the West differs from that in the East, with the former emphasizing the cognitive dimension of Ardelt's model and the latter stressing the integration of Ardelt's cognitive and affective dimensions. Specifically, Takahashi and Bordia stated that wisdom in an Eastern context can be characterized by flexibility, sensitivity, understanding, compassion, and altruism, whereas wisdom in the West tends to be characterized by experience and knowledge.

The wise personality can be defined as an integrated psychological quality that can help individuals to act wisely across time and context (Ardelt, 2003). The free classification approach, which is based on semantic similarity (Chen & Wang, 2016), and has been inspired by research on the psychological structure of intelligence, has been used to explore the structure of the wise personality in an examination of typical words related to wisdom (Paulhus, Wehr, Harms, & Strasser, 2002).

From a cognitive psychology perspective, classification is a fundamental cognitive function of the brain, and the process of assigning a stimulus to a particular social category is generally considered an automatic process in empirical psychology research (Smith & DeCoster, 2000). Therefore, free classification is considered an implicit activity that is often intuitive (X. Wang & Li, 2011), because this method requires participants to perform classification freely and based on their own judgment. When a number of points are classified in the same category based on similarity metrics, a similarity matrix emerges.

To illustrate the validity of the free classification approach, researchers have explored concepts and types of wisdom using hierarchical cluster analysis and multidimensional scaling analysis. For example, Chen and Wang (2016) examined the different types of wisdom by conducting two experiments involving applying free classification to 40 descriptive words associated with wisdom. They found that there are two types of wisdom: natural and humanistic. Natural wisdom, which Albert Einstein exemplified, deals with complex natural science and technology issues. Humanistic wisdom, for which Confucius was the prototype, deals with complex humanities and social science issues (F. Wang & Zheng, 2014). In implicit personality theory, personality is regarded as a connected network that includes all knowledge associated with self-concept and personality traits (Schleider, Abel, & Weisz, 2015).

We aimed to fully describe the wise personality by applying implicit personality theory and using the free classification approach to examine a series of Chinese words. We hypothesized that if the wise personality is composed of virtue, competence, and achievement, these three factors would be revealed through free classification. Further, we believed that competence and achievement would be more likely than virtue would be to be grouped as one class.



We recruited participants through advertisements at Nanjing Normal University. The study sample comprised 45 Chinese university students (25 women, 20 men; [M.sub.age] = 25.11 years, SD = 4.35), of whom four were doctoral students and 41 were master's students. Informed consent was obtained from the participants and all study procedures were conducted in accordance with the ethical standards of the Research Committee of the School of Psychology, Hanjing Normal University.


We asked each participant to undertake free classification of 80 words we have selected (see Materials below) that were related to the wise personality. Participants were told that all words could be classified according to their perceived inner semantic relationships, and that there were no right or wrong responses. We then calculated the frequency with which any two words were assigned to the same class, creating an 80 X 80 correlation matrix from which the similarity between any two words could be determined.


We selected 80 typical Chinese words associated with the wise personality from 494 personality trait adjectives shown in the Modern Chinese Dictionary (7th ed.; Chinese Language Research Institute at the China Science Academy, 2016), and printed these on 80 cards measuring 10 cm long X 2 cm wide. To obtain these 80 words, we asked nine psychology doctoral students to use a 5-point Likert scale, with scores ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree, to evaluate to what degree the 494 words were associated with wisdom. Words with a mean score of 3 or greater were selected.


Hierarchical Cluster Analysis

The classification results show that 66.67% of the participants classified the 80 words associated with the wise personality into three (17.78%), four (28.89%), or five (20.00%) categories (M = 4.73). We used hierarchical cluster analysis to measure the average linkage between groups and to analyze the 80 X 80 correlation matrix. The results show a high level of certainty that the 80 words can be grouped into three broad categories: virtue, competence, and achievement (see Figure 1).

Multidimensional Scaling Analysis

Multidimensional scaling analysis was used to extract the dimensions of the wise personality using the 80 X 80 correlation matrix. The results revealed two dimensions of the wise personality, with a stress value of zero and a squared correlation value of 1.00, which indicates a very strong model fit. Spearman's rank correlation analysis revealed a weak relationship between the two dimensions that was statistically nonsignificant (r = -.010, p = .931), indicating that the dimensions of morality and intelligence were independent. In the semantic space map of the 80 wise personality words (see Figure 2), three clusters can be seen: virtue (exemplars of high morality), competence (exemplars of high intelligence), and achievement (exemplars of combined morality and intelligence). Items in the three clusters matched the results of the hierarchical cluster analysis.

To further investigate the psychological structure of the wise personality and the relationships between the 80 wise personality words, we used UCINET 6.0 to perform a social network analysis of the correlation matrix. In the social network map (see Figure 3), the 80 words were divided into three subgroups: virtue (shown in blue), competence (shown in red), and achievement (shown in yellow). The competence and achievement subgroups were more closely related to each other, whereas the virtue subgroup was relatively independent.


Our results provide evidence to support the establishment of a three-dimensional model of the wise personality. A number of researchers have confirmed that virtue, the first dimension, is an important dimension of the wise personality. Konig and Gluck (2013) explored lay people's conceptualization of wisdom using both quantitative and qualitative methods, and found that most participants believed that wise individuals should be modest, ethical, and honest. In addition, they observed a significant correlation between wisdom and gratitude. Competence, the second dimension, is recognized in numerous wisdom theories (Bangen, Meeks, & Jeste, 2013). However, achievement, the third dimension, has received comparatively little research attention. S.-Y. Yang (2014) suggested that "wisdom is a positive process encompassing cognitive integration, embodiment, and positive effects for one's self and others" (p. 129), in which positive effects are defined as achievement. Thus, our results show that the wise personality is made up of virtue, competence, and achievement dimensions.

From a macro perspective of the three dimensions, there was a closer relationship between the competence and achievement dimensions, compared with the relative independence of the virtue dimension. The social network analysis results demonstrated that, overall, the 80 words we examined could be divided into two clusters, with virtue as one independent cluster, and a combination of competence and achievement as the other cluster. The dendrogram resulting from hierarchical cluster analysis also confirmed that at the average distance of 20-25 linkages between groups, virtue formed one higher-order cluster, and competence and achievement combined in another higher-order cluster. Thus, morality and intelligence constituted the two highest clusters of the wise personality, which fits with the classic Chinese concept of wisdom, as well as with the scientific definition of wisdom in psychology.

Wisdom is an integration of morality and intelligence, which form the core of the classic Chinese Confucianist concept of wisdom (F. Wang & Zheng, 2014). It is emphasized in Confucianism that an individual must be able to integrate benevolence and intelligence perfectly to attain great wisdom (Yao & Hong, 2002). As Mencius said, "Confucius is smart and benevolent, which is the reason he is a saint" (B. Yang, 2012, p. 66). Definitions of wisdom from several representative wisdom theories in the scientific psychology literature, such as the Berlin wisdom paradigm (Baltes & Staudinger, 2000), the balance theory of wisdom (Sternberg, 1988), and Ardelt's (2003) three-dimensional wisdom model, support the idea that wisdom integrates morality and intelligence. Thus, our hypothesis that the wise personality would be composed of virtue, competence, and achievement, was supported through free classification.

In comparison to virtue, we observed a closer relationship between competence and achievement, which is difficult to disambiguate. Competence is thought to be instinctual, and it is often measured by external assessment metrics, such as academic and career achievement (Redzanowski & Gluck, 2013), although there is no one-to-one correspondence between internal competence and external achievement (Gluck et al., 2013). As a result, some of the words we examined can be classified as either competence or achievement, and because there is no uniform classification standard, there is an element of subjectivity involved in the classification process. The dense links between items associated with competence and those associated with achievement confirm this close relationship (see Figure 3).

In contrast to the items in the competence and achievement cluster, virtue is a personality trait associated with moral evaluation (Yu, Peng, Dong, Chai, & Han, 2013) and, we believe, relatively easier to identify, as integration is a core characteristic of virtue, and its various traits are highly correlated with each other. That is, if a person has one virtuous quality, he or she is likely to have other virtuous qualities (Alfano, 2013). The semantic space map of the 80 words associated with the wise personality revealed that the 44 items in the virtue cluster were tightly linked, forming an organic unity, compared with the somewhat looser connections among the items in the competence and achievement cluster. The social network map also confirmed that the internal connections among the items constituting virtue were much more closely connected than were the external connections of items associated with competence and achievement. Thus, our hypothesis that competence and achievement would be more likely to be grouped as one class, compared with virtue, was supported through the social network analysis.

The two most important implications of our findings are as follows: First, to our knowledge, we have taken the first step to study the wise personality directly, pioneering a new realm of research on wisdom in psychology and also a new combination of personality psychology and wisdom psychology. Second, on a practical level, the establishment of the structure of the wise personality will form the basis for future studies on wisdom measurement, wisdom education, wisdom management, and career programming. For example, when conducting career programming, wise people will develop a short- or long-term goal, giving full consideration to their competence. To achieve these goals, they should embody their ideas through action, bringing about positive effects for themselves and others.

There are several limitations in this study. One limitation is that, although we explicitly asked participants to compare the similarity of typical words related to the wise personality, it is unclear to what extent this occurred. Further, the small sample size may be insufficient to establish a construction of the wise personality. In future research, the number of participants should be increased, and, in addition, other factors such as age, level of education, and gender, should be taken into account, as these factors can change the definition of wisdom. In particular, future researchers should pay attention to the different understanding of wisdom by participants from the East compared to the West. In this study, the results cannot be generalized as our participants were all from an Eastern cultural background. Finally, more evidence should be provided in future research to support the three-dimensional model and the wise personality from other approaches, such as lexicological or experimental.


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Nanjing Normal University and Qufu Normal University


Nanjing Normal University

Haiqing Li, Institute of Moral Education Research and School of Psychology, Nanjing Normal University, and Department of Psychology, Qufu Normal University; Fengyan Wang, Institute of Moral Education Research and School of Psychology, Nanjing Normal University.

This research was supported by the key research center funding of the Humanities and Social Science of the Ministry of Education, China (Grant Nos. 16JJD880026; 12YJC90017).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Fengyan Wang, Institute of Moral Education Research, Nanjing Normal University, No. 122 Ninghai Road, Gulou, Nanjing 210097, People's Republic of China. Email:
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Article Details
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Author:Li, Haiqing; Wang, Fengyan
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 1, 2017

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