Conflicts have increased sharply since 2010. This and other trends related to conflict and violence were presented to the United Nations by Alexandre Marc. Marc is the Chief Specialist of the Fragility, Conflict and Violence Group at the World Bank Group.
This rise in conflicts prompted Igor Grossmann (MSc, PhD) to ask a question – “How is it possible that we have just as many, if not more, conflicts as before?” Grossman’s question was prompted by another observation. Humans beings are getting smarter.
If human beings are getting smarter why is finding peace proving to be such a difficult issue to solve? A conundrum was born and Grossman launched a study to better understand what was going on.
Grossman is a behavioral scientist and the lab director at the University of Waterloo’s (Canada) Wisdom and Culture Lab. He conducted the study together with his graduate student, Justin Brienza.
Findings from the study suggest that the lower your social class, the “wiser” you are.
Details of the Study
The study was made up of a two-part experiment.
Part one of the experiment involved 2145 people and an online survey. Participants who were located in the United States were asked to recall a recent event that featured conflict either with a friend or in the workplace
They were then asked to answer 21 questions related to that event. The goal of the survey was to examine the extent to which the participants engaged in one of the five aspects of wise reasoning. Wise reasoning is characterized by the following five characteristics.
- Recognition of the limits of one’s own knowledge and intellectual humility.
- Recognition of world in flux and change, and consideration of multiple ways a situation could unfold.
- Application of an outsider’s vantage point.
- Recognition of others’ perspectives. and
- Consideration of/search for compromise and recognition of the importance of conflict resolution.
Two types of scores were generated from the survey results. A “wise reasoning” score and a “social class” score. The two scores were then compared against each other.
Grossman and Brienza found that people with the lowest social class scores scored about twice as high on the wise reasoning scale as those in the highest social class. For purposes of this study, those considered to in a lower social class have less income, less education, and have more financial concerns.
Part two of the experiment involved 200 people who resided in and around Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were asked to complete two tasks. The first was to take a standard IQ test. The second task was to read three Dear Abby letters. Dear Abby is an advice column written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips. The column offers advice, comfort, reality checks and, helps settle disputes.
The letters dealt with conflicts between siblings, friends, and spouses. Each of the participants gave their opinions to an interviewer based on the following four guide questions
- How did the story develop after this letter?
- Why do you think it happened as you said?
- What was the final outcome of this conflict? and
- What do you think should be done in this situation?
A panel of judges then scored their responses to determine the extend to which wise reasoning was used.
The results of the second part of the experiment matched those of the first. Participants in lower social classes had higher wise reasoning scores.
Grossman concludes that when incomes are lower and resources are few and have to be shared among many, social skills help prevent conflict and are therefore deemed more important. Where incomes are higher, the focus is on education and not on social skills such as conflict resolution skills.
The findings of the study were reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B which is the Royal Society’s flagship biological research journal. The Royal Society is a “Fellowship of many of the world’s most eminent scientists and is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence.”