The significance of research discoveries in behavioral and social research on aging can be interpreted in light of three important themes, developed in the next section, bearing on how individuals age, experience aging, and respond to aging: (1) the dynamic interaction of older individuals and sociocultural contexts, (2) differentiation among older individuals and in the aging process itself, and (3) modifiability through interventions to improve the quality of aging.

Approaches to the scientific study of sociological and behavioral factors in aging include (1) refinement of measurement and analytic instruments, (2) cooperation and coordination by different disciplines in large-scale investigations using carefully selected, culturally representative panels to be followed longitudinally and cohort sequentially, and (3) application and evaluation of research findings through systematic field studies to test the appropriateness of particular intervention techniques.

JUSTIFICATION AND MAJOR THEMES

Fundamental advances in the study of aging have resulted from the demonstration that factors in the social and physical environment extrinsic to the individual can dramatically alter the course of aging. Thus, the process of aging is highly mutable and susceptible to interventions of a social and behavioral nature. The committee believes that social and behavioral interventions derived from the research agenda described below will materially improve the functioning and quality of life of older persons.

Research also emphasizes the fact that, because aging is a lifelong process, it is useful to study both the multiple determinants of successful aging and the causes and consequences of dysfunction and disability. Finally, research has demonstrated the importance of embedding the study of aging in the broader sociocultural context: race, ethnicity, gender, cultural identity, and the social environment.

The Dynamic Interaction of Individuals and Sociocultural Contexts

Genetic and other biological forces affect individual health and behavior within specific sociocultural contexts. The effects and mechanisms of these interactions affecting psychosocial aspects of health and aging need to be understood. At least four bodies of research highlight these complex dynamics. These include studies of (1) comparative aging in different societies, cultures, racial/ethnic groups, and other subpopulations; (2) the influences on aging of



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