It turns out grandma was right: Listen to your elders. New research indicates they are indeed wise -- in knowing how to deal with conflicts and accepting life's uncertainties and change.
It isn't a question of how many facts someone knows, or being able to operate a TV remote, but rather how to handle disagreements -- social wisdom.
And researchers led by Richard E. Nisbett of thefound that older people were more likely than younger or middle-aged ones to recognize that values differ, to acknowledge uncertainties, to accept that things change over time and to acknowledge others' points of view.
"Age effects on wisdom hold at every level of social class, education, and IQ," they report in Tuesday's edition of.
In modern America, older people generally don't have greater knowledge about computers and other technology, Nisbett acknowledged, "but our results do indicate that the elderly have some advantages for analysis of social problems."
"I hope our results will encourage people to assume that older people may have something to contribute for thinking about social problems," Nisbett said.
In one part of the study the researchers recruited 247 people in Michigan, divided into groups aged 25-to-40, 41-to-59 and 60 plus.
Participants were given fictitious reports about conflict between groups in a foreign country and asked what they thought the outcome would be.
For example, one of the reports said that because of the economic growth of Tajikistan, many people from Kyrgyzstan moved to that country. While Kyrgyz people tried to preserve their customs, Tajiks wanted them to assimilate fully and abandon their customs.
The responses were then rated by researchers who did not know which individual or age group a response came from. Ratings were based on things like searching for compromise, flexibility, taking others' perspective and searching for.