Research Article| Volume 26, ISSUE 11, P1108-1118, November 2018

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Reflections on Aging and Wisdom

  • Thomas E. Oxman
    Send correspondence and reprint requests to Thomas E. Oxman, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, 1 Medical Center Drive, Lebanon, NH 03756. Phone: (603) 643-6266.
    Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Community & Family Medicine, Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth College, Lebanon, NH
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Published:August 03, 2018DOI:


      • What is the primary question addressed? Is there an adaptive value of aging? If wisdom is more likely with aging, why?
      • What is the main finding? Discoveries in cultural evolution suggest wisdom is probably culturally adaptive. There are at least two broad strategies of research that give different conclusions on the relationship between aging and wisdom. Research does support the development of at least some dimensions of wisdom with aging: empathy, altruism, social reasoning, emotional homeostasis.
      • What is the meaning of the finding? It is difficult to integrate these research strategies, but future research should incorporate investigations of cultural evolution as well as collaboration among cross-sectional and lifespan as well as cognitive and emotional/empathic assessments.
      The author experienced an unexpected finding over 30 years ago. Despite many losses, older primary care patients had less psychiatric symptomatology than younger patients. This has led to a long learning and teaching focus on the positive relationship between aging and wisdom. Some recent research challenges this relationship. To deal with this challenge the author reflects on two related but complex questions with which he has been struggling. Is there an adaptive value of aging? If wisdom is more likely with aging, why? He concludes that aging is culturally adaptive and that wisdom is aging's individual and societal adaptive strength.

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