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Pathway to Wisdom May Be Found in Brain Circuitry

The common traits of wisdom appear to follow a universal path in the brain

MONDAY, April 6 (HealthDay News) -- Wisdom appears to be more than a subjective concept, it may actually be contained in certain brain circuits and pathways, suggest U.S. researchers who compiled the first-ever review of the neurobiology of wisdom. They said this type of research could potentially lead to interventions for enhancing wisdom.

It's widely agreed that wisdom includes six traits: empathy, compassion, altruism, self-understanding, emotional stability and pro-social attitudes, such as a tolerance for others' values, according to background information in a news release about the study.

But many questions about wisdom remain. Is it universal or culturally based? Is it uniquely human? Is it related to age and experience? Can it be taught?

"Defining wisdom is rather subjective, though there are many similarities in definition across time and cultures. However, our research suggests that there may be a basis in neurobiology for wisdom's most universal traits," study author Dr. Dilip V. Jeste of the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, said in the news release.

Jeste and his colleague, Dr. Thomas W. Meeks, studied existing articles, publications and other documents for the six attributes most commonly associated with wisdom and for the brain circuitry associated with those attributes.

They found that these six traits are associated with heightened activity in several different areas of the brain. It appears that the neurobiology of wisdom involves an "optimal balance" between more primitive brain systems (the limbic system) and the more developed areas of the brain, the researchers said.

"Understanding the neurobiology of wisdom may have considerable clinical significance, for example, in studying how certain disorders or traumatic brain injuries can affect traits related to wisdom," Jeste said.

The study appears in the April 6 issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

More information

The American Academy of Neurology Foundation offers some more information on the amazing brain.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, April 6, 2009

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