lios and to develop a long-term research agenda in these areas. The study committee will identify research opportunities that have the added benefit of drawing on recent developments in the behavioral and social sciences, including behavioral, cognitive, and social neurosciences, that are related to social psychology, personality, and adult developmental psychology, and that cross multiple levels of analysis from molecular to macro-levels.
The committee included clinical, personality, and life-span developmental researchers with expertise in aging, as well as researchers whose expertise was highly relevant to aging, but whose research has not focused directly in the field. Considerable time was spent on two initial tasks: to review what has been learned about aging while considering what still needs to be learned, and to consider how to inform the richly descriptive body of research on aging with cutting-edge empirical approaches from several areas in psychology.
The committee’s work is fundamentally based on a life-span perspective, on the recognition that people at every stage of life embody everything in their lives, from their initial genetic endowments to their recent experiences, from their individual personality characteristics to the social and cultural milieus in which they have grown up and lived. A life-span perspective not only responds to the committee’s charge to consider research from the molecular to the macro level, it also provides a framework in which to begin to bring two disparate areas of research together.
In the field of aging research (gerontology), the corpus of social science research has reflected the efforts—and often the intermingling—of sociology, epidemiology, anthropology, social work, nursing, and psychiatry, as well as psychology. With a handful of important exceptions, experimental social psychology has played a relatively minor role in this research. Because of this history, newcomers to the field sometimes sense a disjuncture between the social science of aging and the mainstream of social psychology, which has been more focused on basic processes and mechanisms involved in attitudes, beliefs, and self-regulation.
In part, the disjuncture reflects the interdisciplinary nature of gerontology and the conceptualization of behavioral science research. In part, it reflects the fact that the early mission of behavioral science research focused on identifying problems of older adults, such as isolation, caregiving, and dementia. However, as life-span psychology emerged and directed attention to normal aging, researchers were increasingly urged to embed individuals in a broad historical, physical, and social context, which involved disciplines and approaches other than those typically considered in the purview of psychology. As cohort differences became increasingly evident, cross-sectional age comparisons, absent broader contextual consideration, became suspect.
The time now is ripe to develop a research agenda that pulls from and