UQ research leads the way using ‘wise reasoning’ process to ease hostilities from COVID-19 conflicts

21 October 2021

A reasoning process focused on the millennia-old philosophical idea of wisdom may be key to understanding and managing human issues that arise in conflict.

This process, named “wise reasoning”, is the focus in a series of studies from UQ Business School management researcher Dr Justin Brienza. Several studies with colleagues from Purdue University and HKUST applied wise reasoning to diffuse intergroup hostilities during events such as protests over US covid-19 lockdowns and same-sex marriage.

Wise reasoning focuses on a structured approach to admitting uncertainty, looking at different perspectives, and integrating other people’s needs. The process has been shown by Dr Brienza to relate to reduced bias and polarisation in major societal conflicts.

“Due to the global increase of social conflict on topics such as racism, COVID-19 and political unrest in the past few years, we believe that this study is time-critical for society as we navigate a world that constantly seems ready for fighting rather than peace-making,” Dr Brienza said.

Dr Brienza’s studies centred on intergroup societal conflicts prominent in the news between 2014 and 2020. These included the Umbrella Movement of 2014 in Hong Kong, the Baltimore protests in 2015 regarding the death of a black man in police custody, the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the United States in 2015, and hostile reactions in response to US COVID-19 lockdowns.

Wise reasoning of participants in these conflicts was measured according to the Situated Wise Reasoning Scale (SWIS), applied in wise-reasoning thought experiments. Hostilities to the groups of people involved were assessed with standard “feeling thermometer ratings” and measures of warmth and trust towards the people in question.

The study found that wise reasoning consistently related to positivity toward outgroups and less polarised, more balanced intergroup attitudes.

“The studies show taking a moment to engage wise reasoning acts as an equalising factor for all people regardless of ethnicity, status or identity.

“We found wise reasoning can also reduce bias and encourage peace-making behaviours – such as charitable helping or volunteering – regardless of who we are or what groups we identify with.

“Because of this, wise reasoning is useful for industry, leadership, teamwork, diversity, and conflict-management at work, as well as for interpersonal relationship management,” said Dr Brienza.

Although Dr Brienza has identified a reliable relationship between wise reasoning and intergroup attitudes, he stresses that more research is required to better understand how to nudge people to use wise reasoning more effectively and investigate it within more diverse populations.

You can read more about the research in Nature Communications.

For more information, contact: Dr Justin Brienza; j.brienza@business.uq.edu.au ; +61 7 334 68141.

Discover how UQ Business School research can help your organisation.