sonality shapes the direction of such changes. The field is only beginning to develop sophisticated models that link and integrate findings from different approaches (Hooker and McAdams, 2003).
Because traits are associated with important aspects of people’s functioning, including health behaviors and ways of coping, their consistency allows for reasonable predictions about health and well-being in old age (Bosworth et al., 1999; Caspi and Roberts, 1999; Whitbourne, 1987). Traits predict responses to major life events (Costa, Herbst, McCrae, and Siegler, 2000), such as Alzheimer’s disease (Siegler, Dawson, and Welsh, 1994), and the development and even prognosis of coronary heart disease (Hemingway and Marmot, 1999; Williams et al., 2000). McCrae and Costa (1994) argue that certain psychopathologies, specifically major affective disorders, result from a trait-like configuration of personality factors that place individuals at risk to experience chronic periods of negative affect. The dimension of optimism-pessimism represents another important variable related to healthy functioning (Carver and Scheier, 1999). Optimism is related to higher subjective well-being, lower distress, better coping, and faster recovery from illness. Findings from longitudinal study populations have shown that personality traits can be used to predict mortality (Smith and Spiro, 2002).
The idea that stable personality traits such as neuroticism, conscientiousness, and extraversion may affect the trajectory of one’s life has been well explored (see, e.g., Costa and McCrae, 1990), but the possibility that traits that are highly adaptive in one group may be less so in another, as a function of racial, ethnic, or cultural membership, is relatively novel and could contribute substantially to the understanding of aging processes. It is also possible that personality measures designed for majority populations do not accurately measure these constructs in members of minority racial, cultural, or ethnic groups and that different constructs may better characterize other groups (Jackson, Antonucci, and Gibson, 1990).
Other personality approaches, such as that proposed by Albert Bandura (1989), consider individual differences to reflect a complex interplay of factors, including temperamental inheritance, that reflect exposure to different types of environments, acquired beliefs and expectations, and the capacity for self-regulation (Bandura, 1989; see also Pervin, 2003). Richard Lazarus’s (1991) research on stress and coping also takes an interactional or transactional perspective on personality. In this view, individuals differ both in the external tasks they face and the adaptive resources they possess. This is particularly important during transitional stages in people’s lives, for example, when new adaptive tasks are faced by the elderly and the resources needed to master those tasks are limited. In this view, the delicate balance between gains and losses that occurs in the second half of life has important implications for personality. The longer people live, the more