Solomon’s paradox describes the tendency to engage in more wise reasoning for others’ problems than one’s own. This phenomenon is named after King Solomon of the Hebrew Bible, the third leader of ancient Israel who asked God to grant him wisdom. People would travel from afar to seek Solomon’s wisdom; however, when it came to his personal life, Solomon lacked insight, which eventually led to the downfall of his kingdom.
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests Solomon’s Paradox can be explained by the difference between positive affect and self-transcendence when thinking about personal – as opposed to others’ – conflicts.
In psychological literature, self-transcendence is defined as “the expansion or dissolution of ego boundaries and an increase in feelings of connectedness with a larger context.” Empirical work on this subject stems from Viktor Frankl’s autobiographical book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which the psychiatrist argues that devoting oneself to a cause or loved one – to the extent that it encourages self-forgetfulness – can lead to self-actualization.
Relatedly, Abraham Maslow, best known for the creation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs depicting “self-actualization” as the peak, revised this hierarchy shortly before his death, adding “self-transcendence” as the pinnacle of human needs; he envisioned a state of self-transcendence driven by values expanding beyond self-actualization.
Self-transcendence is associated with positive affect. This emotional state can expand one’s attentional spotlight, promote holistic perception, expand social boundaries and enhance the ability to transcend past various self-imposed limitations. Thus, emotional states could help explain the observed differences in self-transcendence and wise reasoning across different types of conflict.
In this work, Wentao Xu and colleagues examined the role of mood and self-transcendence in Solomon’s paradox.
A total of 399 participants were recruited from MTurk, an online crowdsourcing platform. After responding to a demographic questionnaire, participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: the self or other conflict group. They were prompted to think about a relationship that is not going well (their own vs. their friend’s) and describe their thoughts and feelings about it. They next completed a scale assessing wise reasoning (e.g., “Tried my best to find a way to accommodate both of us”), positive and negative affect (e.g., excited, angry), self-transcendence (e.g., “My sense of self does not depend on other people and things”), and emotional intelligence (e.g., “I have good control of my own emotions”).
Xu and colleagues found that participants showed less self-transcendence when thinking about their own interpersonal conflicts; this resulted in less wise reasoning. As well, self-transcendence explained the relationship between conflict type and wise reasoning.
The authors write, “This not only creatively develops a new paradigm of self-transcendence manipulation but also directly explains the occurrence mechanism of Solomon’s paradox and expands the depth and breadth of research in both fields, which should be integrated at theoretical and empirical levels in the relationship between the two in the future.”
Further, positive affect and emotional intelligence positively predicted self-transcendence and wise reasoning; as such, there may be a link between wisdom, emotions, and related abilities. There was also a mediating role of positive affect in Solomon’s paradox, suggesting “the complexity of the underlying mechanisms, where essential positive affect suppression beyond the cognitive perspective and self-transcendent mindset can lead directly to impaired wise reasoning endorsement.”
A limitation the researchers note is the relatively small effect sizes of the key findings.
The study, “The Psychological Mechanisms Underlying Solomon’s Paradox: Impact of Mood and Self-Transcendence”, was authored by Wentao Xu, Kaili Zhang, and Fengyan Wang.