Reasoning Social Conflicts Improve into old age; Grossmann, Na, Varnum, Park, Kytayama and Nisbett
It iswell documented that aging is associatedwith cognitive declines in many domains. Yet it is a common lay belief that some aspects of thinking improve into old age. Specifically, 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 consistentwith views of the agingmind 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 readstoriesabout intergroupconflictsandinterpersonal conflictsand predict how these conflicts would unfold. We show that relative to young and middle-aged people, older people make more use of higher-order reasoningschemes thatemphasizetheneedformultiple perspectives, allow for compromise, and recognize the limits of knowledge. Our coding scheme was validated by a group of professional counselors andwisdomresearchers. Social reasoning improves with age despite a decline in fluid intelligence. The results suggest that itmightbeadvisable toassignolder individuals tokeysocial 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.