different environments (including geographic, workplace, and treat-ment environments), living arrangements, and other forms of mate-rial and social support; (3) the effects on behavioral and health outcomes of older persons’ individual characteristics coupled with the varying opportunities and constraints of different social milieus; and (4) the brain/behavior relationship.
Medical research can no longer be separated artificially from sociological, economic, or psychological research. The social contexts in which individuals develop and age influence the length of their lives, their health, their ability to make decisions or cope with the demands of their conditions, their functional capacities, and the way they feel. Indeed, each of these factors influences the others. The natural laboratory provided by differences among subpopulations and subcultures in our own society, between our society and others, and between those who grew up at one time in history and those who grew up at another evidences the fact that growing up and growing old varies, for example, if one is a member of a developing society; if one is black, female, or poor; or if one is of a particular birth cohort. Contemporary social and behavioral research in aging displays an increasingly sophisticated view of the dynamic effects of culture, social setting, and context on individual behavior (Featherman and Lerner, 1985; Maddox, and Campbell, 1985; Campbell and O/Rand, 1988; Riley, 1988; Spenner, 1988). One example of such research [Moos, 1974, 1980) illustrates efforts to measure and examine the varied settings in terms of environmental and individual character-istics and the interactions between the two. Several important conclusions have been suggested. First, the characteristics of the setting-whether structural or interpersonal factors-affect outcome. Second, personal characteristics, such as the individual capacity for cognitive appraisal and coping can, to a degree, compensate for repressive controlling environments. Third, the “fit” between personal characteristics and independence-enhancing environments predicts a beneficial health outcome. Last, the social processes that route individuals toward beneficial milieus are as important as providing a beneficial environment in the first instance.
Both within and across societies, the older population is ex-tremely heterogeneous; moreover, aging has varied substantially over historical time. People arrive at the end of life by different routes, and societies influence these routes in varied but consequen-tial ways. Social and psychological factors affect both how individu-