surveyed say that procrastination is the cause (Llovera et al., 1999). Deferral of action has also been well documented in employer-sponsored savings plans and health insurance plans: default “options” are far more likely to be adopted than alternatives, for example (Choi, Laibson, Madrian, and Metrick, 2003). Thus, a great deal of inertia needs to be overcome before change can occur (Baumeister and Heatherton, 1996).

It is currently unknown whether older people are more or less likely than younger ones to initiate change, but it is clear that aging often entails the need to make changes and that the types of changes older people must consider are particularly pressing. For example, many older adults need to watch their diets not only for aesthetic reasons or general physical health, but because of immediate consequences to cardiovascular functioning, blood sugar regulation, or other health problems; failing to take medications may be imprudent and risky when one is in middle age, but downright disastrous in old age because of disease progression. Likewise, exercise can profoundly reduce the likelihood of falls in older people, the consequences of which are far more likely to result in death than in any other age group (Greenhouse, 1994). In short, poor health practices might interact with age to exacerbate negative health outcomes. Thus, behavior change can be an issue of life or death for older people. Understanding how change can be motivated and the ways in which older and younger people may differ in the initiation and maintenance of change is critically important. Large differences between individuals within groups of older and younger adults must also be investigated because broad variations due to chronological age, gender, or level of ability also influence the initiation and maintenance of behavior change.

Older people might have unique motives for change: for example, they might be especially and uniquely family oriented, and thus, wish to be less of a burden to their families, or they might be motivated to maintain an exercise program in order to retain physical functioning. Or they might be uniquely motivated by a behavior change that would promote global good. For instance, older adults might be willing to make a contribution to the needs of one generation in hopes that their contribution might flow through to other generations. Whether these unique age-specific motivators are sufficient to initiate and maintain change remains to be investigated.

The committee sees an important role for psychology in understanding the best strategies for motivating change. This includes a better scientific understanding of the factors that promote change and the factors that maintain change. In the fields of social and personality psychology, the committee viewed two distinct conceptual approaches as being relevant. First, many psychologists focus on self-regulation, which is concerned with personal efforts to initiate and maintain change. This approach is most concerned with internal sources of change, such as how people choose to



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement