weight or quit smoking predicted greater success, perhaps in part because people develop more successful strategies over time. It is also possible that people develop greater self-regulatory strength through repeated efforts (Muraven and Baumeister, 2000). Researchers must move beyond laboratory and clinical settings to study the way people go about trying to make important changes in their daily lives.
Self-regulation is clearly important for people of all ages, although certain aspects of self-regulation may be especially relevant for older adults, such as adherence to medical regimens, following a specified diet to control health problems, and maintaining physical activity (Balkrishnan, 1998; Brown and Park, 2003; Christmas and Andersen, 2000; Diehl, Coyle, and Labouvie-Vief, 1996; Kahana and Kahana, 1975; Schneider, Friend, Whitaker, and Wadhwa, 1991). Social psychologists have long been interested in examining and promoting methods that can be used to encourage people to engage in healthful behaviors (Salovey, Rothman, and Rodin, 1998). This interest is driven both by researchers wanting to test their theories in applied settings outside the laboratory and by a growing awareness in the medical community that people’s personal beliefs and actions can have a profound effect on their physical and mental health. Individuals’ beliefs and attitudes about aging are also related to outcomes, as are perceptions about the controllability of life. In fact, older people’s subjective perceptions of their health status predict mortality better than physicianrated health (Idler et al., 2004; Mossey and Shapiro, 1982).
Given that self-regulation is crucial for successful living across the life span, it is surprising that it has received only modest attention in the research on developmental aging. Developmental changes are also scientifically intriguing because successful self-regulation draws on areas in which there are both age-related gains, such as in emotion regulation, and age-related declines, such as in working memory and attention. Because models developed in social psychology allow for the breakdown of these factors, they are likely to be particularly useful in understanding age differences in self-regulation.
Some evidence warrants optimism regarding self-regulatory capacities among older adults (Blanchard-Fields and Chen, 1996; Hess, 1994). Research has found older adults to be better at emotional control and emotional stability (Gross et al., 1997; Lawton, Kleban, Rajagopal, and Dean, 1992; Thayer, Newman, and McClain, 1994) and that they may also be able to delay gratification longer (e.g., Green, Fry, and Myerson, 1994) than younger adults. Similarly, Diehl, Coyle, and Labouvie-Vief (1996) demonstrated that older adults have greater impulse control than children