University of Gothenburg
Photo: Pajsa, Pixabay

Lifespan Development: Adult Development and Aging (Life Lab)

We study how people develop during their entire life, with a focus on identifying the principles that describe how people develop during younger and older adulthood. People must acquire new skills throughout life to maintain social participation, independence, and health. It is important to study conditions during the entire life, also in childhood and younger adulthood, to understand how people develop in aging. We investigate in particular the genetic mechanisms, behavioral patterns, and sociocultural factors that affect how mental health, learning ability and cognitive functioning (e.g., memory and decision-making) changes through life.

Research group: Lifespan Development Lab (LIFE LAB)

About us

People must acquire new skills throughout life to maintain social participation, independence, and health. The paths that people take early in life shape development during the rest of the individual’s life, but development continues to be malleable during the entire life. However, older adults face special learning challenges, and differences among older adults are best understood in a lifespan perspective because learning in childhood prepare for later learning.

The general goal of our research Is to identify the principles that control development and aging, such that this knowledge can be used to identify ways to improve the opportunities for lifelong learning, a good development during adulthood and aging for all individuals. We study the factors in childhood that predict lifelong learning ability, the challenges that older adults face, and the characteristics of individuals that struggle with learning in older age. Knowledge abolut these factors, challenges and characteristics are needed to understand lifelong learning but also for the development of interventions to improve learning and wellbeing in later life.

Our research

We investigate the genetic mechanisms, behavioral patterns, psychological aspects and sociocultural variables that affect how learning ability, cognitive functioning  and emotional wellbeing changes during aging. We do this in a multidisciplinary way, by using registers, databases, questionnaires, medical and psychological examinations, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, experiments, and interventions. 

In some studies, the focus is in particular on how sociocultural variables, such as retirement, affect cognitive ability and emotional wellbeing. By following the same individuals over a longer time, we have been able to observe that the retirement transition can mean both increased and decreases socioeconomic inequalities. Most people that retire can handle the transition well. In the short run, it seems like retirement also do not have any appreciable effects on cognitive performance. In related project, the focus of our studies are on how lifestyle factors, such as physical exercise and social activities, affect aging, and how important heritability is for cognitive ability in aging.

The importance of studying conditions during the entire life, including childhood and adulthood, to understand the aging process is acknowledged in much of the research that we do. We have for example show that extensions of the length of education, induced by historical reforms of the Swedish education system, improves cognitive ability. These effects are maintained throughout life and demonstrate the importance of understanding how learning affects development of cognitive ability for understanding also cognitive functioning in aging. Therfore we also take a more experimental approach to understanding learning. In various types of training studies, we investigate mechanisms behind skill learning (e.g., playing an instrument or learning a language) and how learning plays a role in decision making.



Key publications

Lövdén, M., Fratiglioni, L., Glymour, M., Lindenberger, U., & Tucker- Drob, E. (2020). Education and cognitive functioning across the lifespan. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 21, 6-41.

Lindenberger, U., & Lövdén, M. (2019). Brain plasticity in human lifespan development: The exploration-selection-refinement model. Annual Review of Developmental Psychology, 1, 197-222.

Lindwall, M., Berg, A. I., Bjälkebring, P., Burattis, B., Hansson, I., Hassing, L., Hennning, G., Kivi, M., Köning, S., Thorvaldsson, V., & Johansson, B. (2017). Psychological Health in the Retirement Transition: Rationale and First Findings in the HEalth, Ageing and Retirement Transitions in Sweden (HEARTS) Study. Front. Psychol., 26 September 2017. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01634