Meditation and ballet associated with wisdom
Wisdom is often linked with age, but not all elders are wise. So, what makes a person wise?
A new study, “The Relationship between Mental and Somatic Practices and Wisdom”, published on February 18, 2016, in PLOS ONE, confirms the age-old conception that meditation is associated with wisdom. Surprisingly, it also concludes that somatic (physical) practices such as classical ballet might lead to increased wisdom.
“As far as I know this is the first study to be published that looks at the relationship between meditation or ballet and increased wisdom,” said Monika Ardelt, associate professor of sociology at the University of Florida. Ardelt is a leading wisdom researcher who was not involved in the project.
“That meditation is associated with wisdom is good to confirm, but the finding that the practice of ballet is associated with increased wisdom is fascinating. I’m not going to rush out and sign up for ballet, but I think this study will lead to more research on this question.”
The researchers included ballet in the study, “not expecting to find that it was associated with wisdom, but rather for comparison purposes,” said Patrick B. Williams, lead author and a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychology. “The link between ballet and wisdom is mysterious to us and something that we’re already investigating further,” Williams said. This includes ongoing studies with adult practitioners of ballet, as well as among novices training. The published research was groundbreaking because science has overlooked somatic practices as a possible path to wisdom, Williams said.
“No studies have examined whether physical practices are linked to the cultivation of personal wisdom, nor have they theorised that this association might exist,” the study stated.
Understanding the kinds of experiences that are related to increases in wisdom is fundamental in two aspects of the research, said Howard Nusbaum, professor of psychology.
“As we learn more about the kinds of experiences that are related to wisdom, we can gain insight into ways of studying the mechanisms that mediate wisdom. This also lets us shift from thinking about wisdom as something like a talent to thinking about it as something more like a skill,” he said. “And if we think about wisdom as a skill, it is something we can always get better at, if we know how to practice.”
The results of the study showed that those who practice meditation — vipassana (29 per cent), mindfulness (23 per cent), Buddhist (14 per cent), and other types — had more wisdom on average. More importantly, it established for the first time that the link between meditation and wisdom might be attributable to a lower level of anxiety.
“We are the first to show an association between wisdom, on the one hand, and mental and somatic practice, on the other,” Williams said. “We’re also the first to suggest that meditation’s ability to reduce everyday anxiety might partially explain this relationship.”
Participants who practiced ballet had the lowest levels of wisdom. Nevertheless, the more they practiced ballet, the higher they scored on measures of psychological traits that are associated with wisdom.