Prudence to Advance Learning and Practical Application

Prudence to Advance Learning and Practical Application

Prudence to Advance Learning and Practical Application 

By LauraAnn Migliore, Ph.D.

Have you ever considered that animals, birds, and even insects could be more prudent than you?  What a humbling thought to think! However, Biblical analogies describe four things which are little on the Earth, but exceedingly wise: (1) Ants, (2) Rock Badgers, (3) Locusts, and (4) Spiders (Proverbs 30: 24-28). Ants are not strong, but prepare their food in the summer, rock badgers are feeble, but make their homes in the crags, locusts have no ruler, but they all advance in ranks, and spiders skillfully grasp with their hands and live in kings’ palaces. Each of these analogies provides a mental representation of nature living prudently. 

Learning to solve problems is an outcome of prudent behavior and can be explained via research. For example, recent research provides conclusive evidence that New Caledonian (NC) crows can solve problems through mental representations and by preplanning actions several moves ahead using tools to achieve goals and sub-goals (Gruber et al., 2019). Another research example is a Laysan Albatross named Wisdom, who has lived prudently to survive at least 66 years (tagged/banded in 1956) at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial – located in far northern end of the Hawaiian Archipelago (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2019). The prudence of Theodore Roosevelt can be linked to Wisdom’s (the bird) survival via his executive orders to federally protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Island seabird reserve.

So how can you be more prudent than the average bird? Sometimes all it takes is reframing your perspective to “Do what you can with what you have and where you are at” [Theodore Roosevelt (TR)]. Read also my blog article, Prudence in Doctoral Research: An Introduction.”

Applied prudence to advance your learning is the practical application of mental representations to use personal resources and a positive attitude to persist. Let’s take a closer look at how NC crows use mental representations to learn problem solving and apply prudence to eat and win in their quest for survival.

Gruber et al (2019) set up three types of experiments each with conditions to measure the mental representation of location and tools to solve problems correctly using both cognitive and motor skills. The tools were sticks and stones. The goal was to get the food from a platform apparatus. For example, there were two sub-goals (1) functional, which was to use a stick to pull a stone from a tube and (2) distracting, which used a tube containing another stick. Then a stone was to be used to pull the food from the platform apparatus. The researchers also mirrored the conditions but changed the order of tool use. The results were interesting.

Most of the NC crows could quickly solve the initial problem of selecting one of the tools (sticks versus stones) but took longer in the second phase where “they had to take tools positioned inside different compartments” (p. 690). According to Gruber et al. (2019), this second-stage learning seemed to play a critical part in their ability “to mentally represent the location and identity of tools and apparatuses while planning and performing a three-stage behavioral sequence involving metatool use” (p. 690). Some crows outperformed other crows in preplanning behaviors and goal achievement. Possible explanations include differences in motor-control skills (in using sticks versus stones) and additional attention (mental energy) required to make the correct decision to retrieve the food from the apparatus platform.

The key takeaway from the Gruber et al (2019) study is that NC crows can use mental representations to learn through trial and error with tools (sticks and stones) to plan out their sequence of behaviors toward achievement of an overall goal, before implementing their plan. Likewise, you should be able to do the same – that is, if you are willing to reframe your perspective to do what you can with what you have and where you are at (TR). 

Reframing your perspective begins with a choice to be open to a different mental representation of a problem or situation. Let’s work TR’s wisdom backward with where you are at right now in the research/learning process (e.g. problem statement development, literature review, methodology/design selection, etc.). Identify your location and the distance between where you are now and where you want to be/achieve (e.g. completed dissertation study).

Next, what you have are the resources and tools to progress forward. Here too is where you may need to replace a negative mental image with a positive one by widening your perspective to see more resources available to you than previously perceived. Personal choice comes next to do something. Identify what you can do to advance in the learning process.  Doing what you can with what you have and where you are at (TR) can sometimes be uncomfortable and frustrating, because you must overcome threshold concepts before you can build upon foundational learning to advance forward. Persistence to progress with a positive I Can and I Will attitude helps break through to gain understanding and apply the topic/concepts.   

Applied prudence to advance learning is the practical application of mental representation using resources, tools, and a positive attitude of Can Do to persist until you do! During this process of learning, purpose to make it meaningful to understand the relationships between the theories and practices that are being applied, and to identify which decisions, actions, and approaches led to the best performance outcomes. Illustrating your mental representations through use of figures or tables can clarify meaning, associations, and activities. The American Psychological Association 6th edition (2010) publication manual provides many examples of figures and tables in Chapter 5, including checklists to help you create quality illustrations that enhance understanding and application of the concepts being presented. For example, developing a figure (e.g. Venn diagram) to illustrate how selected theories intersect and form the lens to study a problem. Conceptual models illustrating how variables are being operationalized can also help guide the researcher in writing the literature review and in identifying the most appropriate analysis for hypothesis testing, etc.

Simply put, a picture is worth 1000 words. Just like the Biblical analogies of the prudent insects, animals, and NC crow research showed the workings of mental prudent representations, you too can apply prudence in the learning process. Don’t let an animal, bird, or even insects be more prudent than you! Prudent learning cultivates a prudent leader.   

Stay tune for next blog article:Prudence to inform theory and practice: Bridging the scholar and practitioner gap



American Psychological Association (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Sixth Edition. Washington D.C.: Author.

Gruber, R., Schiestl, M., Boeckle, M., Gray, R.D., Clayton, N.S., and Taylor, A.H. (2019, February 18). New Caledonian Crows use mental representations to solve metatool problems. Current Biology 29(4), 686-692. ScienceDirect Retrieved at

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2019). Wisdom, the Laysan Albatross. Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial. National Wildlife Refuge | US Minor Outlying Islands Retrieved at