Thus, a move away from the description of behavior toward an investigation of its underlying mechanisms and functions would be most productive. Much of the work the committee identified will proceed most effectively in interdisciplinary teams. Psychology brings to interdisciplinary research a number of sophisticated statistical and methodological approaches. Infrastructure support that stimulates the incorporation of these methods into future research will be essential for the greatest progress.
Motivation and Behavioral Change A great deal has been learned in recent years about life-styles that increase or decrease well-being in old age. Information about the value of adequate nutrition, exercise, and preventive health care is widely available throughout the country, but the dissemination of information alone is clearly insufficient to bring about widespread behavioral change. Having knowledge about what to do does not ensure that people live accordingly; getting people to develop and maintain healthy patterns of living involves motivation.
How do you get people to engage in exercises, take their medications, see their doctors, move to assisted living, or even hang up on telemarketers? More broadly, how do you motivate people to maintain goals that are realistic and adaptive while also modifying those goals and developing new ones in response to new challenges and opportunities, such as retirement, relocation, loss, and illness? Research suggests that older people have diminished interest in novelty, which impairs change initiation, but it also supports that the stability of daily routines and contexts will contribute to maintaining changes once they are in place. Research about motivation that addresses the activation and maintenance of behavior change could generate important insights about long-term adherence to healthy life-styles.
Socioemotional Influences on Decision Making The range of choices faced by Americans of all ages has changed significantly in recent years and is likely to increase. Moreover, decisions about many issues, such as financial planning and retirement, have become more complicated, as have choices about health care, while there is also a wider range of options for where and how to live one’s later life.
Most current research on decision making at older ages examines the ways in which cognitive decline impairs decision making, yet research also suggests that there is stability or even improvement in automatic, intuitive cognitive processes. For older people, affective heuristics may come to play a more central role in decision making than effortful, deliberative strategies. Such findings have major implications on the processes involved in decision making, particularly on the implications of emotional and social influences.