Three-dimensional wisdom and perceived stress among college students

Document Type


Publication Date



History and Philosophy

Publication Title

Journal of Adult Development


It is generally assumed that wise people know how to manage hardship and crises in life. If true, wisdom should buffer against stress among college students. Conversely, stress might adversely affect students’ wisdom by causing them to focus more on their own needs rather than other people’s perspectives, feelings, and needs. We used a short-term longitudinal survey of 216 college students to examine the relations between three-dimensional wisdom (assessed by the Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale, consisting of cognitive, reflective, and compassionate dimensions) and perceived stress (assessed by the Perceived Stress Scale) at the beginning and end of the semester. Paired-sample t tests indicated that, on average, perceived stress increased over time, whereas three-dimensional wisdom, and specifically the cognitive and compassionate wisdom dimensions, decreased between the beginning and end of the semester. Cross-linked autoregressive models showed a negative association between wisdom and perceived stress concurrently at the beginning and end of the semester and an inverse effect of wisdom on perceived stress longitudinally but not vice versa after controlling for baseline scores. Although some stressful experiences might lead to stress-related growth and ultimately greater wisdom in the long-term, our results suggest that stress is negatively related to the development of wisdom among college students. However, wisdom might buffer feelings of stress over time. Hence, fostering wisdom might strengthen equanimity and mental health, particularly during stressful times.

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