Does Older Always Mean Wiser?

While study seems to confirm the adage "older and wiser" and some aspects of emotional intelligence (EQ) do develop with age, there is no guarantee that this is true.

There are assumptions generally held about age and emotional intelligence. "Common sense" leads us to conclude that older people are wiser and more restrained. But is this always true?

The research that exists does indicate a slight connection between emotional relationship and age, but does not explain how strong this effect is or which areas of EQ are most affected by age. It does not state with certainty that older people are more self-aware or better self- managers or if their decisions are more principled.

A study conducted with 405 Americans, the Six Second Emotional Intelligence Assessment (SEI), shows that EQ increases slightly with age. It is a slight but significant relationship.

"The finding suggests emotional intelligence is a developing ability," says researcher Lorenzo Fariselli of Six Seconds Italia. "It is likely that accumulated life experiences contribute to EQ." The research is reported in a white paper at

Other popularly held beliefs about wisdom and age are challenged in the study, along with the widely held perception of a "generation gap" in altruism and motivation. The study says that the relationship between EQ and age is slight - meaning that while a majority of older people have higher EQ, there are many young people having higher EQ scores. Some aspects of EQ are only developed through training. At a time when emotional intelligence is an important competence for success, this finding illustrates that younger people who are committed to their own development have a slight edge.

Three aspects of EQ were examined: Self-awareness, self-management and self-direction.

Self-knowledge increases slightly with age. "We hypothesize that as people grow they have more opportunity to learn about emotions and the gradations of emotions, increase emotional vocabulary, and experience more and more varied life situations," says Fariselli. They may gather more feedback and mix this into more self-awareness., and he adds that age is mildly predictive of this, so there are many younger people with a highly developed self-awareness and older people who have not developed these competencies.

Self-management does not increase with age, the study contends. This suggests that competencies in this part of the model need specific training to develop and may not develop "automatically" through life experience.

Self-direction is the strongest effect where age predicts 3.9 percent of the development of a set of skills called "Give Yourself." with two specific skills in this area; Empathy and Pursue Noble Goals.

The president of Six Seconds Italia, Massimiliano Ghini, an authority on using EQ to improve business results says, "For many people, adulthood and aging introduce increased need and opportunity to connect with and lead others -- for example engaging a team or developing an organization's vision. As people age, they have more opportunities to practice these skills." Age is not certain guarantee of wisdom and vision.

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