physically and psychologically fit and play integral roles in communities and families, societies will be strengthened. To the extent that older people are infirm, isolated, or dependent, growing numbers of older people will increase the burdens on a relatively smaller younger population. To the extent that older people are healthy and involved, they will likely contribute far more to society than older people in previous generations.
To further advance understanding of how social and individual factors can improve the health and functioning of older adults, the Behavior and Social Research Program at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) requested a study by the National Research Council. The Committee on Aging Frontiers in Social Psychology, Personality, and Adult Developmental Psychology was formed and charged with exploring research opportunities in social, personality, and adult developmental psychology. More specifically, it was charged with identifying research opportunities that have the added benefit of drawing on recent developments in the psychological and social sciences, including behavioral, cognitive, and social neurosciences, that are related to experimental work in social psychology, personality, and adult developmental psychology, and that also cross multiple levels of analysis.
The committee recommends areas of research opportunity that are characterized by recent, provocative findings from psychological science, findings that strongly suggest that additional work will lead to new understanding about the health and well-being of older people. The committee emphasizes areas that have clear applicability to the everyday lives of the nation’s older population. Much of this new work will benefit from a lifespan perspective that looks not only at older people, but at people who will become old in the coming decades, recognizing that old age outcomes are the product of cumulative effects of behavioral and social processes that occur throughout adulthood.
On the basis of the needs of the aging population and the benefits to individuals and to society that could be achieved through research, the committee recommends that the National Institute on Aging concentrate its research support in social, personality, and life-span psychology in four substantive areas: motivation and behavioral change; socioemotional influences on decision making; the influence of social engagement on cognition; and the effects of stereotypes on self and others.
Advances in psychological science have brought the field to a critical juncture where—with adequate support—substantial advances are likely in the near future. Of the social sciences, psychology is especially well-equipped to isolate behavioral mechanisms and to understand how to modify them.