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Levy's Research on Positive Stereotypes

By Thegenaboveme @TheGenAboveMe

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 have to admit that I reversed 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!

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Grateful for Aging
Aging: Fight, Resign or Embrace

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