Do you believe that your thoughts can dictate what your future brings? Maybe you’ve heard stories of this happening. People who “Think and Grow Rich.”
I must admit, I do like this theory. Your thoughts manifest themselves in your actions and your actions determine your life.
If you think, “I am lazy and stupid.” You are certain to act in lazy and stupid ways.
If you think, “I can’t do anything right.” Chances are you will not be satisfied with anything you do – right or wrong.
If you think, “At 80, I’m going to be old and feeble, hardly able to walk around, and forgetting my own name.” Then the chances are you probably will fulfill that destiny.
That is why I love this study. They actually tested this!
Let’s look at the details:
What Was the Experiment Name and Purpose?:
The End Is (Not) Near: Aging, Essentialism, and Future Time Perspective
This team was interested in understanding how the effects of people’s beliefs about aging may affect how they age. To that end, they hypothesized the following:
1. People who believe chronological age carries specific limiting characteristics are linked to a more limited Future Time Perspective (FTP). To note: FTP is related to how positively you view the future. If you are interested in understanding your Future Time Perspective, click here and take the test – it’s quick!
2. People who have more open beliefs about aging are more likely to prevent or slow down the aging process in order to pursue their goals.
Who Conducted the Study?:
— David Weiss (Columbia University)
— Stephanie Grah (Columbia University)
— Veronika Job (University of Zurich)
— Maya Mathias (University of Zurich)
— Alexandra M. Freund (University of Zurich)
Who Participated, How Did They Get Their Information, And What Did They Find?:
One thing I love about this study is their results are actually reported from three different studies.
STUDY ONE included 250 adults from Zurich. The average age was 42 with 75% of the participants being female. They were first surveyed on their beliefs about aging and FTP.
The results showed:
People viewed limiting beliefs related to chronological age in a negative way and on average people were more likely to reject those limiting beliefs.
Limiting beliefs about aging were significantly related to FTP.
Combining these results suggest that limited aging beliefs are related to a limited FTP. However, they were cognizant that FTP possibly predicted limited aging beliefs, which is why they conducted Study Two.
STUDY TWO included 103 adults with the average age of 42. This study was conducted online and included 49% male participants. This study tested the link between aging beliefs and their effect on FTP. Participants were separated into two groups. One was given information related to limiting aging beliefs and the other was given information more open to aging.
The results showed:
Participants in the limiting aging beliefs condition reported a more restricted FTP and they also felt more threatened when thinking about aging.
STUDY THREE included 174 adults with the average age of 55 and included 40% male participants. This study investigated how age-related gains or losses affected aging beliefs and FTP. Participants were separated into two groups. One was the “gain” group and the other the “loss” group. Both groups were asked to complete a brief writing task related to the gains/losses they had experienced in their life.
The results showed:
Participants in the “gains” group related increases in experience, knowledge, and wisdom.
Participants in the “loss” group related decreases in vision, hearing, general physical ability, health, and memory.
Participants with limiting aging beliefs reported lower FTP compared to those who thought about age-related gains.
Additional Interesting Information:
- This research paper cited an experiment that showed older adults’ beliefs about their own control of memory can be improved.*
- They also cited information that negative age stereotypes could affect older adults’ cognitive functioning, health, and even mortality.** (Sounds similar to this!)
- This paper proposed that when people with limiting aging beliefs were confronted with negative age stereotypes, they may create self-fulfilling prophecies, which leads to the realization of those beliefs.
As you might imagine after reading the introduction, I found this research positive. Believing an open mindset about aging can have a positive impact on your future is uplifting. It makes me want to celebrate.
I was very interested to note in STUDY ONE they found that on average people reject limiting beliefs. I’d like to see more research on this. When discussing age with people, I tend to find they reject those limiting beliefs for others but when I suggest they might live to 100 years-old, they are confounded and reject the idea immediately.
Let’s keep in touch with these participants in a longitudinal study to understand if those with the more open aging beliefs experienced greater health and longer life than their more limited counterparts.
What do you think?
Do you believe people who are more open to aging actually think more positively about the future?
Do you think this might translate into a healthier and longer life?
*Lachman, M. E., Weaver, S. L., Bandura, M., Elliott, E., & Lewkowicz, C. J. (1992). Improving memory and control beliefs through cognitive restructuring and self-generated strategies. Journal of Gerontology, 47, 293–299. doi: 10.1093/geronj/47.5.P293
**Levy, B. (2009). Stereotype embodiment: A psychosocial approach to aging. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 332–336. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01662.x
*Plaks, J. E., & Chasteen, A. L. (2013). Entity versus incremental theories predict older adults’ memory performance. Psychology and Aging, 28, 948–957. doi: 10.1037/a0034348
Weiss, D., Job, V., Mathias, M., Grah, S., & Freund, A. M. (2016). The end is (not) near: Aging, essentialism, and future time perspective. Developmental Psychology 52(6) 996-1009. doi: 10.1037/dev0000115