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Psychology of Longevity

Kapitel i bok
Författare Boo Johansson
Pär Bjälkebring
Publicerad i Encyclopedia of Geropsychology
Sidor 1-12
ISBN 978-981-287-080-3
Förlag Springer
Förlagsort Singapore
Publiceringsår 2015
Publicerad vid Psykologiska institutionen
Sidor 1-12
Språk en
Länkar link.springer.com/referenceworkentr...
Ämnesord longevity, survival, later life, aging
Ämneskategorier Psykologi, Psykologi (exklusive tillämpad psykologi)


Longevity denotes especially long-lived members of a population. It is separated from life expectancy which focuses on the likely mean age of death within a population. There is no overarching theory of aging and longevity or a specific psychological theory targeting longevity as the main outcome. Survival into advanced ages is determined by multiple influences of genes interacting with environmental conditions over the entire life span. Already from embryonic life, individual experiences and behavior influence health, functioning, and the likelihood for longevity. To capture all these dimensions in a single theory seems impossible. Biological theories focus on evolutionary aspects and underlying mechanisms for life and typically define longevity as the potential life span under ideal conditions. Foci in social theories are contextual influences related to survival, especially the socioeconomic environment that humankind has designed in the format of roles, institutions, and principles for age stratification over the life course. From a psychological perspective, longevity can be considered in relation to cognitive abilities, personality, and various aspects of well-being. The interactions of these psychological domains are expressed in our adaptation to everyday environmental demands and in later life to age-related biological changes, which in turn produce differential conditions for survival. In this respect, the psychology of longevity represents a nondeterministic approach in the crossroad of biological and social influences with a focus on biological constraints and socioeconomic prerequisites for cognition, personality, and affective components. There are several theoretical accounts proposed in biobehavioral and social sciences of relevance also for our understanding of the psychology of longevity. However, these theories and models do not typically focus on longevity as the main outcome. The manifestation of a survival advantage becomes visible when an individual lives longer than the average person, from the same birth cohort. Thus, longevity needs to be related to the actual life expectancy in a certain population. A substantial gap between the average life span and a long-lived person directs our attention to factors that may contribute to the observed differences. To conduct such a search, we have to compare mortality rates within an older population and examine whether we can identify shared psychological characteristics and behaviors among those who live the longest. Early ideas about longevity were typically based on the assumption that genetic influences and age-related biological changes produced unavoidable neurobiological changes and thereby changes in behavior. Later research gradually acknowledged that psychological characteristics and behavior are formed and expressed differently in various environmental contexts. Life-course influences, coping strategies relative to environmental demands, and more general lifestyles are therefore currently considered for their relevance to longevity. In this less deterministic view of longevity, psychological factors may have a more significant role. A general psychological stress model of aging provides a broad theoretical framework for the psychology of longevity. Coping strategies in the broadest sense can here be seen as the psychological mechanisms we employ to fit our own perceived resources to demands and challenges in the external environment and changes due to our own age-related bodily change. Unlike a stochastic theory that views aging and death as a result of stressors that cause wear and tear on cells and disrupt function, a stress model emphasizes that both external and internal psychological stressors can cross the mind-body barrier with effects on overall health, survival, and longevity. In the first section, we review empirical studies that illustrate the significance of cognitive “”functioning, personality, various aspects of self-perceived health and well-being in aging, as well as social connectedness. The focus is restricted to the potential role of these psychological factors as predictors of differences in survival rates in aging. At the end of the chapter, we synthesize these findings and suggest an overall theoretical account and model for the role of psychological factors in producing variance in survival and especially psychological predictors of longevity.

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