Monday, December 1, 2014

Levy's Research on Positive Stereotypes

Photo by Marg.
"To keep the heart  unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent--that is to triumph over old age." ~ Thomas Baily Aldrich
I confess to reversing my usual process for writing a post. This time, I first found the wonderful photograph above, and then I went looking for a matching idea. The photograph conveys the power of a positive attitude, so I started looking for research correlating positive thinking with longevity. 

There are several studies about the correlation between having a positive attitude and achieving longevity. I am most familiar with David Snowdon's Nun Study, which focuses on finding what variables delay clinical presentation of Alzheimer's Disease.  

Snowdon did find that--along with high levels of education, social engagement, exercise and high consumption of folate--a positive mental attitude helped suppress the clinical presentation of dementia.   If you are interested in the topic of Alzheimer's Disease, I highly recommend Snowdon's book, Aging with Grace

In looking for studies more focused on the benefits of positive thinking, I discovered the work of Dr. Becca Levy, a gerontologist at Yale University.   Her work often gets cited in the mainstream media. I found her quoted in several accessible articles published in the last few years--six in 2014 alone. Conveniently, she has them listed on her university webpage here.

Levy's work focuses more specifically on the power of positive stereotypes about aging on the health and longevity of older adults.  She drew on the Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement (OLSAR), which contains 23 years of data for over 1,000 participants 50 and older. 600 of them met Levy's and her three other collegues' criteria. 

The major finding was that participants who held positive views about aging at the start of the study lived an average of 7.5 years longer.  

Some individuals might view older adults as frail, grumpy, poor, and isolated. Others might view older adults as vibrant, experienced, wise, influential, and active.  Holding positive stereotypes of aging influence people's outcomes for the better.  

Intrigued?  You can learn more about this research in the following ways:

  • If you would like to read Levy et al's 2002 article published in a scholarly journal, you can find a full-text PDF version here.  
  • If you want a more accessible piece of writing, you can read this Wall Street Journal article (12/01/14) that draws on her research. 
  • If you would like to read about Levy testifying before Congress concerning the damaging effects of aging stereotypes in the media, you can read this article by the American Psychological Association about combating ageism. 
  • If you would like to hear someone summarize the key findings, you can view this short video by Cynthia Sue Larson of Reality Shifters. She starts with an explanation of the power of stereotypes before introducing Levy's work around the 2 minute mark.  


I  invite you to examine your assumptions about aging and to visualize a positive journey into late adulthood.   Doing so could add 7.5 years to your own life, and you could change others' stereotypes about aging as well.

Be a trend setter!

Related:

From Age-ing to Sage-ing: Book Review
Grateful for Aging
Aging: Fight, Resign or Embrace



18 comments:

  1. There truly is power in positive thinking. I think it applies to most things, so why wouldn't it apply to aging, too? I'm not surprised by the findings of this study, but I thank you for sharing it. I wouldn't have known about it otherwise :)

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    1. I'm currently trying to be more positive in all areas of my life. Thanks for endorsing this strategy! It encourages me.

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  2. I decided two years ago it was all about being positive for me. It wasn't and still isn't always easy but it did get easier to pull myself back from the negative ledge.
    I am healthier and happier without a doubt.

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    1. Oh, this is great news and helps me to turn away from the negative faster based on our experience. Thank you.

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  3. I feel great about aging, as it's a privilege many are denied...

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    1. Great observation. All my best to you, Carol.

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  4. Aging is stigmatized that's for sure. I'm in my 50's and learning how to age "gracefully" each day. I practice the law of attraction each day as well, and this has transformed the way I think. Great post and vid for sure!

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    1. Yes, I'm seeing "gracefully" as way more complex now than I did at 20. Thanks for reading / commenting.

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  5. I'm so glad you wrote this. It's so much healthier and just plain more pleasant to look at the world with a positive attitude.

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  6. I also think that a positive attitude can cure many ills, or at least give us a different perspective on them. I like what Carol said above about aging being a privilege. I'm going to try to remember that the next time I complain about my wrinkles.

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  7. We live in such a youth oriented society that we have often marginalized older adults. Changing our view about ageing can have such an important impact on so many aspect of our own life and that of others. It is really interesting to you site the findings that there is empirical evidence that a positive outlook can have such an important impact on life

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    1. I am encouraged by so many people in the Second Act doing more to shape mainstream society by growing participation in social media and blogging. Also I'm seeing more business owners who are doing exciting things as second act careers. So much innovation among older workers. Cool stuff.

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  8. I love this study and your challenge to rethink how we all look at aging! Great inspiration all the way around!

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  9. I may complain, with laughter. But there is nothing like a positive attitude to add years to your life.

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    1. Laughter is a great response for dealing with difficulties. My son has that gift, and he often helps me go down that more festive path.

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