Have you noticed how quickly we come up with solutions when a friend or a neighbour brings up issues related to their romantic relations or tensions at work while we struggle to work through our own personal problems?
This is because we approach our friends’ problems with clear-eyed objectivity, suggests new research. But when it comes to finding a solution to our own problems, we view them through a personal, flawed and emotional lens.
The new research, published in the journal Psychological Science, showed that those who are motivated to pursue virtue and go beyond their personal perspective deploy wiser reasoning to solve personal problems.
“Our findings suggest that people who value virtuous motives may be able to reason wisely for themselves and overcome personal biases observed in previous research,” said Alex Huynh of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
“This is in part due to their ability to recognise that their perspectives may not be enough to fully understand a situation, a concept referred to as intellectual humility,” Huynh said.
Previous research has typically focused on how situations can affect a person’s level of wise reasoning, but these findings suggest that personal motivations may also play a role.
“To our knowledge, this is the first research that empirically ties this conceptualisation of virtue with wisdom,” Huynh added.
“These findings open up new avenues for future research to investigate how to increase a person’s level of wisdom,” Huynh said.
The researchers recruited 267 university students for this study.
The participants reported the extent to which they were motivated to pursue virtue by rating their agreement with statements like “I would like to contribute to others or the surrounding world” and “I would like to do what I believe in”.
Then, they were randomly assigned to think about either a personal conflict or a close friend’s conflict, imagine that the conflict was still unresolved and describe how they felt about the situation.
Finally, they rated how useful different wise reasoning strategies (for example, searching for compromise, adopting an outsider’s perspective) would be in addressing the conflict in question.
As expected, participants who thought about a friend’s dilemma considered wiser strategies to be more useful than did the participants who thought about their own personal issues.
But the motivation to pursue virtue seemed to close this gap – participants who thought about personal problems rated wise-reasoning strategies as more valuable as their motivation to pursue virtue increased.
Further analyses revealed two specific components of wise reasoning that mattered most — considering other people’s perspectives and intellectual humility.