Wisdom VS Intelligence: 7 Key Differences

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Why would anyone want to know the difference between wisdom vs intelligence? Is one better than the other? Wisdom and intelligence are two highly desirable traits and are equally important for navigating through life successfully.

However, the two concepts are often confused as one and the same. Sometimes they are misunderstood as mutually exclusive when they are in fact distinct and separate. In other words, thinking that being intelligent means being ‘wise’, or having wisdom means being intelligent.

Many people, including psychologist Robert Stemberg, believe that wisdom can take you where intelligence cannot. For example, exercising judgment and making decisions based on how previous behaviors shaped their experiences.

Quite intriguing, isn’t it? Join me as we explore what it means to have wisdom, how it differs from intelligence, and how both characteristics can positively influence life outcomes.

What Is Wisdom?

Wisdom is a characteristic that shows in one’s ability to apply knowledge gained through experience to achieve better life outcomes. Knowledge is information, such as facts and processes (how to do things), that is continuously acquired throughout one’s lifetime.

Throughout the lifespan, a rich history of knowledge gained from experiences is created. This is different from knowledge gained through reading or academic learning.

Life lessons (knowledge) gained from experiences are automatically stored in the brain and can be applied to make better choices.

However, not many people are capable of accessing the information until they’re older or after developing greater self-awareness.

Benefits of Wisdom

Wisdom teaches lessons from personal experiences. You can gain experience cognitively from reading materials, but practical experience comes from living through it along with all the accompanying negative and positive feelings and emotions. Other benefits of wisdom worth noting include:

  • Ability to discern right from wrong (also called intuition)
  • Ability to view adversity as an opportunity for growth
  • Being more accepting of uncontrollable life’s challenges and uncertainties
  • Ability to spot danger from afar and avoid it
  • Better sense of direction that comes intuitively
  • Developing greater patience and therefore less likely to experience anxiety
  • Greater vision and leadership skills
  • Knowing how to attain peace, happiness, and contentment with greater ease

What Is Intelligence?  

Intelligence is a psychological characteristic commonly described as the ability to apply acquired academic knowledge or facts to perform tasks or make everyday decisions. 

You are, in essence, “using your logic to solve problems and make decisions,” says neuroscientist and author of The Source, Tara Swart, M.D., Ph.D. The author was quoted in an article published by Mind Body Green.

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Intelligence is the ability to apply acquired academic knowledge or facts to perform tasks or make everyday decisions. 

Knowledge is a key factor and a common denominator in wisdom and intelligence. It refers to a collection of information and skills gained through experience and is similar to wisdom, to the extent that you can gain it through experience.

Benefits of Intelligence

It feels good to be called intelligent because it validates your intellectual abilities. Saying “Thank you,” is enough.

Those with narcissistic traits and tendencies, however, tend to get cocky when praised for their intelligence. “Of course, I’m intelligent, and don’t forget smart, charming, and good-looking,” is something a narcissist would say. 

The point is that intelligence is a highly sought-after attribute by humankind because intelligence makes them feel powerful. Other key advantages of high intellect include:

  • Better grades at school
  • Higher-paying jobs
  • Ability to think critically, analytically, and rationally
  • Ability to make logical decisions
  • Admiration by others (something highly desirableby grandiose narcissists)
  • Ability to solve complex problems, e.g., involving mathematics or inductive or deductive reasoning. People with Extraverted Sensing (Se) are inductive thinkers.
  • Ability to predict future outcomes based on knowledge of the appropriate data
  • Less likely to get in trouble e.g., because of an understanding of crime and punishment

Wisdom vs Intelligence: 5 Noteworthy Differences

The core difference is seen in how each of the two qualities is acquired and used, as you will notice in the distinct differences highlighted below.

#1. Wisdom grows with age, but not necessarily intelligence

You might have heard the sentiment “The older, the wiser.” And there might be some truth to it; at least that’s what researchers have concluded.

One study on the relationship between wisdom and aging found “empirical evidence that social wisdom improves with age.” Researchers came to this conclusion after making a comparison between older and younger participants in the study.

Greater wisdom is seen in older people’s ability to use a wider range of reasoning and consider different outcomes when faced with various scenarios. Those scenarios include making choices, resolving conflicts, dealing with uncertainties, and deciding when to take risks.

We, as humans, don’t necessarily grow more intelligent (at least not automatically) as we age. Sure enough, we may acquire knowledge through day-to-day interactions, but remember knowledge is acquired information and skills.

It does not equal cognitive intelligence, which entails judgment, reasoning, and thinking analytically.

#2. Wisdom comes through life experience, unlike intelligence

“Experience teacheth wisdom,” at least that’s the age-old belief. It makes sense that we learn from experience, whether the experience was pleasant or unpleasant.

If unpleasant, we know not to do a certain thing again, providing we’re aware that certain actions or activities will lead to terrible consequences.

We are wiser if we can use the knowledge gained, especially from bad experiences, to exercise sound judgment in the future.

I don’t believe anyone can say for a fact that people with more life experience under their belt are more intelligent than those who don’t. It is a hasty generalization at best.

Intelligence is something you have to consciously work on improving. In fact, a person can be extremely intelligent yet lack experience in various areas as well as wisdom.

#3. Intelligence can be willfully improved, but not wisdom

You can read a book, take a course, or read for a degree and you’ll increase intelligence and knowledge just like that. Gaining more practical knowledge is also a decision you can make at any given time.

While, according to one study, wisdom is “subject to continual change,” you simply can’t force it or make it happen at will.

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Life lessons gained from experiences are automatically stored in the brain and can be applied to make better choices.

You can’t wake up one day and say, I’m going to develop or increase my wisdom today, at least not exponentially. The only fresh wisdom you’ll gain is from new or different experiences you have on that day.

Unlike the gathering of intellectual information, wisdom is acquired over time and through different life experiences.

#4. Wisdom leads to second-nature decisions, unlike intelligence

The use of intelligence to make decisions requires the application of facts, logic, and/or reasoning. Besides, the individual will first have to be intelligent in order to engage in the process of logical thinking and use the result to make informed decisions. That’s only one issue.

Now, let’s imagine two people, one who’s wise and the other intelligent. Both are given the task of making a decision pertaining to the same problem.

The intelligent person begins to use academic knowledge to figure out the answer. Who knows, they might even say, “Let me Google that and get back to you.”

The wise person relies on past experiences, patterns, and intuition, as seen in those with INTJ Personality. They also lean on their ability to make quick judgments from the facts and are able to come to a decision quickly, without relying on books or googling for tips.

Consider this response as wisdom in motion. Because the information is already stored in the brain from previous experience, they’re able to quickly draw from it and act accordingly.  

Quickly solving a problem using intelligence can be more challenging if there’s no knowledge to fall back on or the individual lacks life experience in that area, to begin with.

#5. Wisdom allows for self-reflection, intelligence may not

A person, young or old, can be as smart as a whip and still conduct themselves poorly because they lack the ability to self-reflect and gain awareness of their behaviors. For example, noticing they’ve acted impulsively, aggressively, or indulged in risky behaviors.

In the study on the relationship between wisdom and aging mentioned earlier, wisdom accounted for the difference in self-reflection and emotional stability in older people.

In other words, they were wiser and less impulsive in the way they approached decision-making, challenges, and interpersonal relationships.

The ability to ask yourself why you’re repeating the same mistake comes from internal self-reflection. To self-reflect, you must have a healthy level of self-awareness. Within self-awareness is emotional intelligence, which is different from cognitive intelligence, or learned information.

Emotional intelligence enables you to assess and regulate your own behavior and see its effects on those around you. The ability to regulate our emotions and maintain emotional stability also comes with age, time, experiences, and maturity.

Certainly, we can read tips on self-discovery and emotion regulation. However, we still have to be mentally capable of applying them to improve our behaviors.

#6. Intelligence can be measured, but not wisdom

If you know of a Wisdom Quotient Test that exists, please let me know. I wouldn’t mind taking the test to learn my level of wisdom.

As far as intelligence goes, it can be measured through an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test, such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS). The standardized test is used for assessing a person’s level of thinking and reasoning.

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Intelligence is a highly sought-after attribute by humankind because intelligence makes them feel powerful.

The higher the score, the higher their intellect. Unfortunately, you can be as wise as an owl and still flunk an IQ test.

Even though wisdom can’t be quantified in numbers, there are ways to “measure personal wisdom,” according to a study. Measuring takes into account factors such as the ability to complete tasks, meet goals, deal with challenges, regulate one’s emotions, openness to experiences, and self-acceptance.

#7. Intelligence does things “by the book,” wisdom asks if it’s the right thing to do

Wisdom is more of an inner sensing ability or intuition that kicks in to question what you’re about to say or do before doing so.

Intelligent people who lack wisdom may act impulsively by nature. At the same time, they’re capable of thinking rationally using book logic and acting accordingly. That doesn’t mean they’re making the best or right move.

By asking, “Is this the right and proper thing to do?” wisdom essentially turns to past experiences and core values, such as honesty and morality, for advice in order to determine the proper course of action.

Wisdom causes people to “reconsider the consequences of their actions both to self and their effects on others” and helps them decide if they should go ahead with their actions. That’s according to Dr. Vivian Clayton, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist. Her findings are published in her study on Wisdom and Intelligence: The Nature and Function of Knowledge in the Later Years.

Final Thoughts on Wisdom vs Intelligence

We should all seek to increase intelligence and use wisdom every single day. Together, these valuable traits can increase success, wealth, health, and happiness.

Often, these things go hand in hand. If one is successful, they are likely wealthy (whether in riches or emotions).  And if you are wealthy, you are likely not stressed, which helps keep you healthy.  And if you’re healthy and successful, chances are you are happy! Craving more?

Check out this piece on Aristotle’s Practical Wisdom: Does Doing the Right Thing Make You Happier?

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