Reasoning About Social Conflicts Improves Into Old Age

Proceedings of the National Academy of Science - www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1001715107

by Igor Grossmann, Jinkyung Na, Michael E. W. Varnum, Denise C. Park, Shinobu Kitayama, and Richard E. Nisbett

It is well documented that aging is associated with cognitive declines in many domains. Yet it is a common lay belief that some aspects of thinking improve into old age. Speci fi cally, older people are believed to show better competencies for reasoning about social dilemmas and conflicts. Moreover, the idea of aging-related gains in wisdom is consistent with views of the aging mind in developmental psychology. However, to date research has provided little evidence corroborating this assumption. We addressed this question in two studies, using a representative community sample. We asked participants to read stories about intergroup con fl icts and interpersonal conflicts and predict how these con fl icts would unfold. We show that relative to young and middle-aged people, older people make more use of higher-order reasoning schemes that emphasize theneed for multiple perspectives, allow for compromise, and recognize the limits of knowledge. Our coding scheme was validated by a group of professional counselors and wisdom researchers. Social reasoning improves with age despite a decline in fl uid intelligence. The results suggest that it might be advisable to assign older individuals to key social roles involving legal decisions, counseling, and intergroup negotiations. Furthermore, given the abundance of research on negative effects of aging, this study may help to encourage clinicians to emphasize the inherent strengths associated with aging.

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(My publication)Posted:Mar 01 2010, 12:00 AM by Igor Grossmann
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