Becca R. Levy and Martin D. Slade Yale University
Suzanne R. Kunkel Miami University
Stanislav V. Kasl Yale University
Published: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2002), 83(2), 261-270
This research examined the possibility that self-perceptions of aging directly affect survival. The sample consisted of 660 individuals (Female = 57.3%), aged 50 and older, who participated in a community-based survey, the Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement (OLSAR). By matching the OLSAR to mortality data obtained from the National Death Index, the researchers were able to conduct survival analysis over a 23-year period.
The findings demonstrated that individuals with more positive self-perceptions of aging survived on average 7.5 years longer than those with more negative self-perceptions of aging. The impact on survival of positive self-perceptions of aging was greater than the impact of some other variables that have been previously linked to survival, including gender, socio-economic status, functional health, and loneliness.
The researchers also questioned a possible reason why self-perceptions influence survival rates. On finding that a social-psychological variable directly influenced survival, they questioned whether an additional psychological mechanism might act as a mediator. It was predicted that will to live i.e. a judgment that the perceived benefits of one?s life outweigh the perceived hardships, would act as a mediator between aging self-perceptions and survival. As predicted, the results demonstrated that will to live partially mediated the relationship between self-perceptions of aging and survival, whereas self-perceptions of aging did not mediate the relationship between will to live and survival. This suggests that positive self-perceptions of aging lengthened survival both directly and indirectly.
Overall, the findings indicated that positive self-perceptions of aging measured up to 23 years earlier contributed to individuals living longer and this was demonstrated among men as well as women, in those with better as well as worse functional health, in those less than 60 years as well as 60 years and over, in those less than 70 years as well as 70 years and over, in those with lower as well as higher socio-economic status, and in those who reported experiencing loneliness as well as those who did not.