Thursday 22 August 2019

Research Bulletin: Fostering Wisdom through Narratives

While most would agree that it is a good thing to be wise, how might we actually go about cultivating wisdom? Michel Ferrari and colleagues (2013) propose a way in which personal wisdom might be developed: engaging with narrative. Doing so might rely on two capacities: (1) autobiographical reasoning and (2) narrative simulation.

These authors argue that autobiographical reasoning—self-reflective thought that constructs a coherent narrative identity and self-world relationship—plays a key part in developing one’s personal wisdom. In simpler cases, this kind of reasoning can lead to extracting life lessons from one’s experience, whereas deeper reasoning yields deeper insights, such as generating a novel worldview. Ferrari and colleagues propose that if one’s reasoning (1) is sufficiently sophisticated, (2) involves fundamental life matters, (3) is oriented to personal growth, and (4) conforms to a culturally appropriate wisdom ideology, it is the optimal kind of autobiographical reasoning to promote wisdom.

As for narrative simulation, simulative experience-taking might allow us to understand and experiment with solutions to emotional/social situations (Mar & Oatley, 2008). Two main types of simulations might be relevant for developing personal wisdom: (i) simulating narratives of wise figures to emulate, and (ii) simulating hypothetical narratives about future events, 'testing the waters' by casting ourselves as protagonists in some future situation.

Lastly, the authors consider the role of ‘cultural master narratives’, which they define as "sense-making structures… that effectively [guide] and [shape] the stories they tell to others and themselves.” When these cultural resources contain prototypical or exemplary instances of wisdom, they allow development of personal wisdom via simulation and reflective reasoning. 

In conclusion, by simulating and reflecting upon our own and others' life narratives, individuals can cultivate personal wisdom, as the wisest among us seem to do.


Ferrari, M., Weststrate, N. M., & Petro, A. (2013). Stories of wisdom to live by: Developing wisdom in a narrative mode. In The scientific study of personal wisdom (pp. 137-164). Springer, Dordrecht.

Post by Isabel Bowman

* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile for e-mail).

Photo by Jean van der Meulen from Pexels

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