Americans get wiser with age. Japanese are wise from the start.
ONE stereotype of wisdom is a wizenedZen-master smiling benevolently at the
antics of his pupils, while referring to them as little grasshoppers or some
such affectation, safe in the knowledge that one day they, too, will have been
set on the path that leads to wizened masterhood. But is it true that age brings
wisdom? A study two years ago in North America, by Igor Grossmann of the
University of Waterloo, in Canada, suggested that it is. In as much as it is
possible to quantify wisdom, Dr Grossmann found that elderly Americans had more
of it than youngsters. He has, however, now extended his investigation to
Asia—the land of the wizened Zen-master—and, in particular, to Japan. There, he
found, in contrast to the West, that the grasshoppers are their masters’ equals
almost from the beginning.
stereotype n. 刻板印象；老套
benevolent adj. 仁慈的；亲切的；仁爱的
quantify v. 量化；为……定量
Dr Grossmann’s study, just published in Psychological Science, recruited
186 Japanese from various walks of life and compared them with 225 Americans.
Participants were asked to read a series of pretend newspaper articles. Half
described conflict between groups, such as a debate between residents of an
impoverished Pacific island over whether to allow foreign oil companies to
operate there following the discovery of petroleum. (Those in favour viewed it
as an opportunity to get rich; those against feared the disruption of ancient
ways and potential ecological damage.) The other half took the form of advice
columns that dealt with conflicts between individuals: siblings, friends and
spouses. After reading each article, participants were asked “What do you think
will happen after that?” and “Why do you think it will happen this way?” Their
responses were recorded and transcribed.
walks of life 各界；各行各业
impoverished adj. 穷困的；用尽了的，无创造性的
in favor 赞同；偏向
disruption n. 破坏；毁坏
sibling n. 兄弟姐妹
spouse n. 配偶
transcribe v. 转录；抄写
Dr Grossmann and his colleagues removed age-related information from the
transcripts, and also any clues to participants’ nationalities, and then passed
the edited versions to a group of assessors. These assessors were trained to
rate transcribed responses consistently, and had been tested to show that their
ratings were statistically comparable with one another.
The assessors scored participants’ responses on a scale of one to three.
This attempted to capture the degree to which they discussed what psychologists
consider five crucial aspects of wise reasoning: willingness to seek
opportunities to resolve conflict; willingness to search for compromise;
recognition of the limits of personal knowledge; awareness that more than one
perspective on a problem can exist; and appreciation of the fact that things may
get worse before they get better.
compromise n. 妥协
perspective n. 观点
A score of one on any aspect indicated a participant gave no consideration
to it. A score of two indicated some consideration. A score of three indicated a
great deal of consideration. Each participant’s scores were then added up and
mathematically transformed to create an overall value within a range of zero to
100 for both interpersonal and intergroup wisdom.
The upshot was that, as Dr Grossmann had found before, Americans do get
wiser with age. Their intergroup wisdom score averaged 45 at the age of 25 and
55 at 75. Their interpersonal score similarly climbed from 46 to 50. Japanese
scores, by contrast, hardly varied with age. Both 25-year-olds and 75-year-olds
had an average intergroup wisdom of 51. For interpersonal wisdom, it was 53 and
Taken at face value, these results suggest Japanese learn wisdom faster
than Americans. One up, then, to the wizened Zen-masters. But they also suggest
a paradox. Generally, America is seen as an individualistic society, whereas
Japan is quite collectivist. Yet Japanese have higher scores than Americans for
the sort of interpersonal wisdom you might think would be useful in an
individualistic society. Americans, by contrast—at least in the maturityof old
age—have more intergroup wisdom than the purportedly collectivist Japanese.
Perhaps, then, you need individual skills when society is collective, and social
ones when it is individualistic. All of which goes to show that the real root of
wisdom is this: do not assume, little grasshopper, that your prejudices are
paradox n. 悖论；似是而非的观点