Aging Expectations

Research: Let’s Talk About Aging

letstalkaboutagingIn our last research article, Believing is Seeing, we discussed an experiment that supported having an open mindset about aging may have a positive impact on your future. The analysis of this next experiment continues down the same road.

Let’s look at the details:

What Was the Experiment Name and Purpose?

Negative Perceptions of Aging Predict Longitudinal Decline in Cognitive Function

This team was interested in how aging self-perceptions might predict changes in how the brain functioned. They “hypothesized that self-perceptions of aging would not only be associated with cognitive function cross-sectionally but also with change in cognition longitudinally.”

In easier English, they believed the way people thought about aging would affect their brains today and in the future.

Who Conducted the Study?

  • Deidre A. Rovertson (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Bellinda L. Ding-Kallimanis (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Rose Ann Kenny (Trinity College Dublin)

Who Participated, How Did They Get Information, and What Did They Find?

This research included 5,896 participants in Ireland with a mean age of 63. The study was approximately 55% female and was a double-blind, longitudinal study across two years.

(Note: Double-blind means the participants didn’t know what was being studied and the people conducting the interviews weren’t certain what was being studied. This way none of the people involved can influence the responses.)

First, the participants were given a brief Ageing Perceptions Questionnaire, which rated their level of agreement with questions about the aging experience and their expectations about aging in the future.

Next, they were given a cognitive battery of tests, which included chronic pain, depression, and executive function along with testing of immediate, delayed, prospective, and self-rated memory.

Those with negative aging bias showed a decline of memory and verbal fluency over the two years of the study, which was independent of sociodemographic factors, physical health, mental health, and medication use.

On the other side, participants with a positive aging bias showed actual improvement in verbal fluency.

Based on the results, the researchers suggested that emotional reactions to aging or awareness of aging alone may not be the main driver to aging self-perceptions on health. It may be related to self-efficacy.

These researchers suggest there is potential to improve and maintain cognitive function later in life when an individual has positive perceptions of aging.

The researchers did believe their study suffered from attrition and a short longitudinal time frame.

Additional Interesting Information:

In discussing this study, the researchers did offer some additional interesting information I’d like to share…check it out:

  • Anti-aging campaigns are on the rise globally, which indicates older adults may experience discrimination in healthcare, the workplace, and social situations. (Dr. Foster Intelligence, 2012; Palmore, 2001; Russell & Fahey, 2004)
  • Multiple other studies have shown negative self-perceptions of aging can create lower life satisfaction, health, and mood. (Mock & Eibach, 2011; Wurn & Benyamini, 2014; Wurm, Tomasik, & Tesch-Romer, 2008)
  • Multiple other studies have shown negative self-perceptions of aging may create greater levels of disability, ill health, poor physical function, and a higher risk of mortality over time (Koter-Gruhn, Kleinspehn-Ammerlahn, Gerstorf, & Smith, 2009; Levy, Slade, & Kasl, 2002; Robertson, Savva, King-Kallimanis, &Kenny, 2015; Sargent-Cox, Anstey, & Luszcz, 2012; Sargent-Cos, Anstey, & Luszez, 2014; Wurm, Tesch-Romer, & Tomasik, 2007)
  • One study found that participants who in mid-life had negative aging stereotypes showed poorer cognitive function up to 38 years later. (Levy, Zonderman, Slade, & Ferrucci, 2012)
  • On a more positive note, a recent intervention study showed older adults actually increase physical function over eight weeks through an implicit positive stereotype intervention alone. (Levy, Pilver, Chung, & Slade, 2014)

My Opinions:

I was really excited about where this study was going. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to deliver the big results I was anticipating. This is especially disappointing because it was a longitudinal study.

They were very good though at communicating other findings. My goal is to research those studies and report more information gleaned from them.

Here’s the net result though, their data did show a connection between positive aging perceptions and improved verbal fluency.

If there’s even a small chance that changing your attitude about aging could help you to retain cognitive function later in life, shouldn’t you be doing it?

Your Thoughts?

Do you believe people may be able to improve the actual mechanics of their thinking with positive self-perceptions?

Do you think you hold positive self-perceptions of aging?

Are you willing to focus on increasing those in an effort to maintain brain power in the future?

I would love to hear your perspective in the comments section below!



Dr. Foster Intelligence. (2012). Fit for the future? Dr. Foster hospital guide 2012. London, England. Retrieved from http://download.drfoster

Mock, S. E., & Eibach, R. P. (2011). Aging attitudes moderate the effect of subjective age on psychological well-being: Evidence from a 10-year longitudinal study. Psychology and Aging, 26, 979–986. doi: 10.1037/a0023877

Kotter-Grühn, D., Kleinspehn-Ammerlahn, A., Gerstorf, D., & Smith, J. (2009). Self-perceptions of aging predict mortality and change with approaching death: 16-year longitudinal results from the Berlin Aging Study. Psychology and Aging, 24, 654–667. doi: 10.1037/ a0016510

Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., & Kasl, S. V. (2002). Longitudinal benefit of positive self-perceptions of aging on functional health. The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 57B, 409– 417. doi: 10.1093/geronb/57.5.P409

Robertson, D.A., King-Kallimanis, B. L, & Kenny, R.A. (2015). Negative perceptions of aging predict longitundinal decline in cognitive function. Psychology and Aging, 31, 71-81. doi: 10.1037/pag0000061

Robertson, D. A., Savva, G. M., King-Kallimanis, B. L., & Kenny, R. A. (2015). Negative perceptions of aging and decline in walking speed: A self-fulfilling prophecy. PLoS ONE, 10, e0123260. doi: 10 .1371/journal.pone.0123260

Sargent-Cox, K. A., Anstey, K. J., & Luszcz, M. A. (2012). The relation- ship between change in self-perceptions of aging and physical function- ing in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 27, 750–760. doi: 10.1037/a0027578

Sargent-Cox, K. A., Anstey, K. J., & Luszcz, M. A. (2014). Longitudinal change of self-perceptions of aging and mortality. The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69B, 168– 173. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbt005

Wurm, S., Tesch-Römer, C., & Tomasik, M. J. (2007). Longitudinal findings on aging-related cognitions, control beliefs, and health in later life. The Journals of Gerontology Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 62, 156–164. doi: 10.1093/geronb/62.3 .P156

Levy, B. R., Zonderman, A. B., Slade, M. D., & Ferrucci, L. (2012). Memory shaped by age stereotypes over time. The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 67B, 432–436. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbr120

Levy, B. R., Pilver, C., Chung, P. H., & Slade, M. D. (2014). Subliminal strengthening: Improving older individuals’ physical function over time with an implicit-age-stereotype intervention. Psychological Science, 25, 2127–2135. doi: 10.1177/0956797614551970

The Wine and Champagne by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC By HappyFamilyTravels.



  1. I try to stay positive, though honestly I try not to think about aging. I wonder if not thinking about it is akin to thinking negatively…

    1. Thanks for your comment! Although you may not realize you are thinking about aging, do you think maybe you have some negative perceptions of aging which cause you to try not to think about it? If so, then I’d agree it is akin to thinking negatively. Do you consider any aspects of aging positive?

      1. I think that is the key – what are the positives of aging? More time to enjoy what you didn’t / couldn’t when raising a family and working. More clarity on what is most important in life. Tougher to think of the positive physical aspects.

        1. You’ve hit on some really good ones! Of course, it’s unique to each individual but think you nailed it from the perspective of getting clarity on those things most important to you and then having the time to focus on them.

          Some key areas of improving how you age may be to focus on eating better (more time to prepare healthy meals), exercise (more time again, with less concern on how good/bad you are at an activity), improving your social network (time for outings with friends and family), focusing on the activities you enjoy (crafts, hobbies, etc.).

          These are a few of the positive aspects one could concentrate on as they move forward happily through life!

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