Personality and Coping among Centenarians
Martin, Peter, Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics
Even though centenarians often have significant functional, physical, or cognitive impairments, many continue to amaze family members, friends, and researchers alike. Several individual attributes have been used to portray exceptional survivorship traits of long-lived individuals: Centenarians must be hardy individuals with a positive attitude; they surely must be likeable persons who have always done everything perfectly right and who have learned throughout life how to cope with adversity. If translated into personality characteristics, centenarians would have a very favorable personality profile.
The purpose of this review is to shed light on individual personality characteristics of centenarians and to separate myth from reality. A secondary purpose is to address the question to what extent personality characteristics help to explain optimal adjustment in very late life. Before examining the available evidence concerning personality and survivorship, I provide a brief theoretical and conceptual overview of the personality literature. After that, I will highlight narrative reports about the personal characteristics of and life events experienced by centenarians. Third, I will focus on biographical information of wellknown centenarians. Fourth, I will summarize findings concerning personality traits of centenarians. Fifth, I will address specific personality states and coping behaviors in centenarians. Finally, I will highlight to what extent personality traits and coping can help survivors into very late life to adjust to changes in very late life. I will conclude with recommendations for future research.
THEORETICAL AND CONCEPTUAL OVERVIEW
Personality has often been described as relatively stable when seen from the rank-order stability perspective (Costa & McCrae, 1994). As Mroczek, Spiro, and Griffin (2006) pointed out, however, there are also individual differences in stability. A number of studies using growth-curve modeling techniques have recently demonstrated that neuroticism appears to decline with age (Mroczek & Spiro, 2003; Small, Hertzog, Hultsch, & Dixon, 2003), and agreeableness and conscientiousness appear to increase over time (Helson, Jones, & Kwan, 2002; Small et al., 2003). Short-term fluctuations over weeks have also been investigated, and these fluctuations may explain why some people survive and others do not (Eizenman, Nesselroade, Featherman, & Rowe, 1997).
It is difficult to study long-term personality changes or trajectories in centenarians. Longitudinal studies into the 10th and 11th decades of life are not feasible because of the high mortality rate in very late life. Even though there has been a considerable increase in the number of centenarians over the past 50 years, becoming a centenarian is still a relatively rare occasion. Research on this oldest age group therefore must rely on retrospective information or on cross-sectional and short-term longitudinal studies.
What is the relative importance of personality characteristics in longevity models? One of the earliest conceptual models, derived from findings of the Bonn Longitudinal Study of Aging, placed personality in the center of the model, directly predicting longevity, but also as a mediator that was dependent on genetic and social-ecological factors (Lehr, 1982; Thomae, 1976). The Georgia Centenarian Study's general conceptual model included personality as an individual characteristic that would directly predict adaptational characteristics, mental and physical health, nutritional behaviors, and life satisfaction (Poon et al., 1992). None of these models were exclusively developed for the study of centenarians. Instead, these were models of survivorship and adaptation for older adults. Instead of testing the fit of longevity models, centenarian studies typically begin with the narrative description of centenarians' characteristics.
Early studies on centenarians usually contain some reference to individual or anecdotal impressions researchers have gained from the study of centenarians. Most of these descriptions tend to be upbeat in nature. For example, Beard (1991) mentioned the positive thinking and positive outlook of the centenarians in her studies: "They looked on the bright side of everything, putting aside temporary inconveniences, refusing to dwell on tragedies or fears, and always considering the better tomorrow" (p. 129). Centenarians were described as believing in themselves, determined, seeking challenges, and productive. Beard summarized several themes centenarians often display: hard work; faith; moderation in daily routines, such as eating and drinking; as well as keeping a simple life. She also described them as strong individuals because of their attitudes, beliefs, and continued activities. Of course, these may be characteristics of the centenarians' cohort and may apply to the same cohort members who did not survive into very old age.
More recently, Perls and Silver (1999) noted the ability of New England centenarians to handle stress and cope with adversity, referring to them as "stress-resistant personalities." These were defined as patterns of behavior that allow individuals to withstand stress better than others. Perls and Silver described centenarians as optimistic with an internal sense of control, high emotional stability, adaptability, and low levels of negative emotionality (including depression, anxiety, hostility, self-consciousness, impulsiveness, and vulnerability). Active coping was described as a key to survivorship.
The theme of resilience has received quite a bit of attention in centenarian research. Willcox, Willcox, and Suzuki (2001) described many Okinawa centenarians as possessing strength or resiliency of character expressed by "self confidence, independence, and strength of will" (p. 246). Their survivorship appeared to be typified by high levels of resourcefulness in coping.
Perhaps the most descriptive term used in the study of centenarian personality is what Okinawans call a toy gay personality, referring to easygoing and laid-back personalities (Willcox et al., 2001). This relaxed and calm personality style appears to explain a stress-reduced life-style. Willcox et al. (2001) equated this personality type with Type B personality, and evidence has been found for low levels of time pressure, competitive, overachieving, impatient, and hostile traits in Okinawa centenarians (Akisaka et al., 1998). In Okinawa, centenarians scored extremely low on time urgency and tension, but high in self-confidence and determination. Another cultural explanation used by the Okinawa study is gajuh or self-willed character (Willcox et al., 2001). Finally, centenarians were described as "dominating personalities," with "youthful, cando attitudes, who regarded themselves as the pillars of their families" (p. 65).
PERSONALITY AND EVENTS
It is somewhat surprising that so little is known about what experiences in their lives may have determined the personality of centenarians. Perls and Silver (1999) remarked that "personality is one of the most important factors in survival" (p. 63) and noted that personality was related to many experiences in the lives of centenarians-such as wars; health changes; sports; academics; and important, even horrendous, events, such as the experience of one New England centenarian who had survived the Holocaust.
Perls and Silver (1999) noted that centenarians had not lived particularly sheltered lives. They reported to have met centenarians who told stories of deprivation, poverty, hardship, and oppression and concluded that longevity was not the result of having avoided stress, but rather of having responded to it efficiently and effectively. One way to assess the lives of centenarians is by evaluating the personal and historical life events they have experienced (Martin, Raiser, & Poon, 1999). The perception or "cognitive representation" of these specific events and one's biography may shape the complex personality of survivors. Lehr (1991), for example, reported that 85% of the centenarians in her study had evaluated their lives as positive. Those positive aspects included occupational success, marriage, and family contacts. The centenarians in her study, however, also had reflected on difficult situations: the death of a loved one, physical decline, institutionalization, and hard times in marriage. In the case of the Georgia Centenarian Study, the loss of a spouse and children were also more likely to have occurred in centenarians when compared with younger age groups, but centenarians were less likely to experience divorce (Martin et al., 1999). The study also listed other events commonly experienced by centenarians and their average age when they had occurred. On average, the highest educational degree was obtained at 20 years, marriage was experienced at 24 years, and the birth of children occurred approximately 1 year after marriage. A major physical illness was-on average-reported at 52 years of age, and it was at retirement age (mean age of 61) that centenarians experienced the loss of a spouse.
Centenarians who are born at the same time in history belong to the same cohort experiencing the same macro or historical events. Beard (1991), in her early study of centenarians, pointed out that centenarians may have encountered such events as living in a log cabin, participating in house raisings, experiencing the coming of the railroad, and prospecting for ore. The Georgia Centenarian Study also focused on a number of common macro events (Merriam, Martin, Adkins, & Poon, 1995). Answers to the question about the most exiting events included events such as seeing the first airplane, the Model T Ford, McKinley's election, World War I, the Titanic sinking, and the SpanishAmerican War. Other commonly mentioned events included Depressionrelated events, events in the 1960s, and present violence in society.
The current generation of centenarians therefore has a number of pioneering events in common, but they also have in common loss-related events; such events become more likely in the second half of life. Both micro and macro events undoubtedly have shaped the robust personality of these survivors. Yet only few thorough biographies of centenarians have been documented through systematic research.
PERSONALITY AND BIOGRAPHY
Arguably the most famous centenarian is Jeanne Calment, the oldest authenticated human in history. Allard, Lebre, Robine, and Calment (1998) highlighted many facets of her life and described her as someone who was immune to stress and who had a realistic sense of coping. Her life principle appeared to be, "If you can't do anything about it, then don't worry about it." When assessing her biography more closely, it becomes apparent that her personality traits can be traced back to her childhood. Calment was asked about her school years and responded, "I had a hell of a lot of will power! A hell of a will power, you understand? And it was very useful to me" (Allard et al., 1998, p. 29). Her strong will dominated her entire life, even when she entered a retirement home. She refused to accept timetables set by the home and asked that each evening the bed be turned down, her nightgown placed on top, and that she be awakened at a fixed time.
Allard et al. (1998) noted that, in addition to her will power, Calment had "an appetite for life, a thirst for everything around her, and an interest in everything near her" (p. 35). Apparently, she was interested and involved in many things, and she had ready opinions and answers to all questions.
Calment had a close relationship to her father and brother, less so to her mother. In her childhood, Calment was boisterous and liked to play. Allard et al. described how Calment remembered jumping in the hay bales and how she would demand that it was her turn to play on the swings. Allard et al. (1998) concluded that, even as a child, she displayed traits of toughness, force fulness, and dominance.
Reportedly, Calment was always in a hurry and fast-paced. She complained that her husband was "too slow." The trait of masculinity appears to have been important throughout Calments life. She liked the outdoors, hunted, and she was always perceived as a strong individual: "I have a rather masculine nature, I'm not afraid of anything" (Allard et al., 1998, p. 67). Calment was described as a woman without worries, but with high levels of activity and decisiveness.
Calment escaped the cholera epidemic of 1884, which devastated the town of Aries, where she lived all her life. The Great Depression of 1929 did not touch the Calments; their business apparently remained prosperous even during hard times. Calment lost her husband, who died of food poisoning in 1942, and, although Jeanne Calment had also eaten the same food, she was able to withstand the poison. One can only speculate to what extent all these events influenced Calment's personality and prospects of survival.
The events experienced throughout Jeanne Calment's life appeared to have woven themselves into a larger fabric that became the core of her personality structure. Allard et al. (1998) described this by writing that Calment would "remain for long silent moments alone in her armchair, where she readily admitted to replaying the film of her life (a very long opus, no doubt), and she systematically chose the good parts, the best clips" (p. 34). Allard noted that the images and sounds of the past were all still an important part of life for this extraordinary individual.
Calment drew great satisfaction out of her entire life. She would not focus on bad memories: "Everything was transformed into happiness throughout her long life" (Allard et al., 1998, p. 36). But Calment was aware of the changes that came with her very long life, to which she would respond, "I make do with what's left" (p. 36). Even though Calment drew much satisfaction from her past life, she did not appear to be nostalgic about the past and did not appear to favor the past over the present. When asked whether giving birth to a child marked the happiest time of her life she responded, "No more than now. Every age has its happiness and troubles" (p. 48).
Another interesting case study reported in the literature includes that of Thomas Mortensen (Wilmoth, Skytthe, Friou, & Jeune, 1996), because he is considered to be the oldest verified man ever (he lived to be 115). Unfortunately, few details have been published about the biography of this unusual survivor. Perhaps what is most striking about his life is the difference between his and Jeanne Calment's. Mortensen spent his childhood in Denmark and worked on a farm before he became a tailor. At the age of 21, he immigrated to the United States, and then he traveled extensively. Mortensen married, but the marriage soon ended in divorce. After that, he never remarried. In addition to working as a tailor, Mortensen worked as a milkman, operated a small restaurant, was a factory worker for the Continental Can Company, and retired at the age of 68. He then moved to Texas and later to California, where he moved to a retirement community at the age of 96 (Wilmoth etal., 1996).
In contrast to Calment, Mortensen was employed in different occupations and moved around extensively throughout his life. Furthermore, Mortensen's divorce and nonmarried life stands in contrast to Calment's marriage experience. Because of the scarce information about his biography, it is more difficult to evaluate what impact these events had on his personality, yet it would be hard to imagine him as a close-minded or highly anxious individual.
A final case study is that of Sister Mary of the Nun Study. Snowdon (1997) described her biography briefly in an introduction to a publication on cognitive functioning. Sister Mary was the oldest of 11 children to German immigrants. At the age of 14 she entered the School Sisters of Notre Dame convent in Baltimore, Maryland. With only 8 years of formal education, Sister Mary taught 7th and 8th grade. At the age of 41, she obtained a high school diploma, finishing as an A student. Sister Mary taught until she was 84 and spent the last years of her life in the same convent she had entered as a young girl. Snowden describes her as a person with "a big open-mouthed smile, soft facial skin, and eyes that radiated joy and peace" (p. 151). Sister Mary was an avid reader and very dedicated to her religion. In contrast to Jeanne Calment and Thomas Mortensen, Sister Mary dedicated her life to teaching and religion. Yet determination and a strong will may be something that she had in common with the other two well-known centenarian survivors.
PERSONALITY TRAITS IN CENTENARIANS
Next to the broad description of the personality and the more general biography of centenarians, a number of studies have systematically assessed the personality traits of centenarians with the help of standardized personality inventories (Table 6.1). A Swedish centenarian study (Samuelsson et al., 1997), for example, used ratings from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory to assess personality traits. Close relatives were asked to rate the personality of centenarians at mid-life. The personality ratings of centenarians were then compared to norms for elderly persons. Results suggested that centenarians were low on the hypomania and psychasthenia subscales. Centenarians could therefore be described as dependable, reliable, mature, conscientious, and less frequently participating in social activities. Furthermore, centenarians on average were responsible, easygoing, capable, relaxed, efficient, and not prone to anxiety.
Results of a personality study from the first Georgia Centenarian Study using the Cattell 16PF indicated that centenarians had higher scores in dominance, suspiciousness, and shrewdness and lower scores in imagination and tension when compared to two younger groups (Martin, 2002). When retesting centenarians after approximately 20 months, the Georgia team found that centenarians had decreased scores in sensitivity, but higher scores in radicalism (Martin, Long, & Poon, 2002). Martin (2002) argued that the robust personality among these highly selected centenarians was not only an indication of survivorship but also an important resource that may help centenarians adapt well to later life. More recent findings from the Georgia Centenarian Study using the Big-5 framework suggested that centenarians overall had low levels of neuroticism but high levels of extraversion, competence (a facet of conscientiousness), and trust (a facet of agreeableness) (Martin et al., 2006). When compared to centenarian self-ratings, family members ("proxies") provided significantly higher ratings for neuroticism, hostility, and vulnerability but lower ratings for competence and trust. The self- and proxy ratings of centenarians, however, were similar in the direction of the traits even though centenarians tended to rate themselves more extreme on all traits (Figure 6.1).
Caspi (1998) suggested three personality patterns that can be directly related to the Big-5: the well-adapted or resilient personality (i.e., persons who score moderately high on extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness but low on neuroticism), the overcontrolled personality (i.e., persons particularly low on extraversion and emotional stability), and the undercontrolled personality (i.e., persons who scored high on extraversion but low on agreeableness and conscientiousness). Among centenarians, the personality configuration of a resilient personality appears to be quite common. The Georgia results confirmed that centenarians showed several unique traits but that a special combination of traits (i.e., low levels of neuroticism, high conscientiousness, and moderately high extraversion) were also notable in this group of exceptional survivors (Martin et al., 2006).
Low levels of neuroticism in women centenarians as measured by the Big-5 were also reported by Perls and Silver (1999). In that study, no other traits of centenarians were significantly different from a comparison group.
A recent Japanese centenarian study indicated that both male and female centenarians scored higher in openness. The study also pointed out that gender may be an important moderator: Relatively high scores for conscientiousness and extraversion were found only among women centenarians when compared to elderly individuals aged 60 to 84 years (Masui, Gondo, Inagaki, & Hirose, 2006). Another Japanese centenarian study reported that centenarians had high scores in femininity and low scores in Type A behavior (Shimonaka, Nakazato, & Homma, 1996).
Some of the trait findings confirm results that have related personality traits to mortality in older adults at younger ages. A number of studies have reported that low levels of conscientiousness and extraversion and high levels of neuroticism and negative affect are associated with premature mortality (Almada et al., 1991; Christensen et al., 2002; Friedman et al., 1993; Kubzansky et al., 1997; Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, & Offord, 2000; Wilson, Bienas, Mendes de Leon, Evans, & Bennett, 2003; Wilson, Mendes de Leon, Bienas, Evans, & Bennett, 2004).
In summary, personality trait results are now available from a number of centenarian studies across the world, and several universal personality traits have emerged. Perhaps the most consistent personality trait found in almost every centenarian study was the low level of neuroticism (or high levels of emotional stability). There may be some truth to the saying that one should not worry oneself to death. Two additional traits that have been confirmed in a number of international studies are somewhat higher levels of extraversion and conscientiousness. These two traits appear to be important for survival. Extraverted individuals may be more resourceful in obtaining social support, and conscientious persons may be able to take better care of daily tasks that are necessary to stay alive.
It is noteworthy that there were also some distinct differences between the findings reported in the various centenarian studies. Dominance was an important trait for U.S. centenarians, and femininity was a salient trait in Japanese centenarians. Japanese centenarians also scored higher in openness than their counterparts in other countries, even though the U.S. Georgia study indicated that centenarians became more open-minded over time. Finally, within-country cohort differences of centenarians were obtained in the Georgia Centenarian Study. The first Georgia Centenarian Study reported higher scores on suspiciousness, whereas the second study (with a different sample of centenarians) reported high scores on trust. These different findings may be the result of different measures used (i.e., the 16PF in the first study, the Big-5 in the second study) or they may reflect cohort-specific survivorship traits.
PERSONALITY STATES AND COPING BEHAVIORS IN CENTENARIANS
The assessment of relatively stable personality traits does not suggest that centenarians cannot change in important characteristics. In contrast to enduring personality traits, personality states tap into situation-dependent variability over time (Nesselroade, 1988). Some personality states studied in centenarians include state anxiety, state extraversion, stress, depression, fatigue, and guilt. Martin et al. (2002), for example, noted that centenarians had significantly lower stress scores when compared to two younger age groups. With regard to changes over time, the same study reported that centenarians showed increased scores in fatigue and depression when retested after about a year and a half.
The notion of higher depressive mood and fatigue levels deserves more specific attention. Several researchers have reported that centenarians scored higher in depressive symptomatology. Martin, Rott, Kerns, Poon, and Johnson (2000), for example, reported a prevalence of depressive symptomatology in about 25% of community-dwelling centenarians. Depression scores were also significantly higher in centenarians when compared with other age groups. In a separate study with centenarians and nonagenarians from the Midwest, Martin and da Rosa (2006) found higher scores in sadness and hopelessness in centenarians when compared to nonagenarians. Overall depression scores were also higher in centenarians.
In recent years, depression has been assessed from a multidimensional perspective with the suggestion that older adults often experience "depression without sadness" (Gallo, Rabins, & Anthony, 1999), described by some as the "depletion syndrome" (Adams, 2001; Newman, Engel, & Jensen, 1991). Depletion entails a general lack of interest in daily activities, as well as feeling that everyday activities require a considerable amount of effort (Adams, 2001). This is similar to a heightened sense of general fatigue. Gatz (1998), for example, contends that fatigue denotes a lowered or depleted affective reserve. It is, therefore, not clear to what extent the higher scores in fatigue found among centenarians could be the real origin for higher scores in depressive mood (Martin, Bishop, Poon, & Johnson, 2006).
In addition to personality states, it is also valuable to assess coping behaviors in centenarians. How do centenarians deal with adversity? What coping behaviors are more likely to be chosen by centenarians? Several studies have assessed coping in this very old age group. Martin and colleagues (1992), for example, assessed different modes of coping in centenarians and reported that centenarians were relatively low in behavioral coping but maintained high levels of cognitive coping. When assessing coping more specifically, centenarians were particularly likely "not to worry," "to rely on religious beliefs," "to take things a day at a time," and "to accept" health problems (Martin, Rott, Poon, Courtenay, & Lehr, 2001). Centenarians, on the other hand, were less likely to "talk to a friend." A qualitative study in Barbados also pointed out that successful adaptation and coping in centenarians were positively related to high levels of religiosity (Archer, Brathwaite, & Fraser, 2005).
Coping behavior was also found to be an important mediator in determining social integration (Rott, 1999). Testing a structural equation model, Rott reported that different coping behaviors were determined by cognitive appraisal processes, and cognitive coping, social coping, and seeking help were the most important predictors of social integration among centenarians.
PERSONALITY AS A PREDICTOR OF ADAPTATION
Personality traits and states can be used in a descriptive way, they can be seen as survivorship characteristics, and they can be seen as individual resources (Martin, 2002; Martin & Martin, 2002). To what extent do personality traits and states help to explain adaptation in very late life? Until now, the relationship between personality and functional and mental health has received little attention in the centenarian literature.
The Swedish Centenarian Study, for example, assessed to what extent personality traits predicted activity of daily living (ADL) function and quality of life (Samuelsson et al., 1997). Low levels of hypomania were significantly related to better ADL function, whereas low levels of insecurity related significantly to high levels of quality of life.
Adkins, Martin, and Poon (1996) reported that for centenarians low levels of trait tension and high levels of state extraversion predicted relatively high levels of morale. Martin et al. (2000) also reported that trait anxiety (i.e., low levels of emotional stability and high levels of tension) significantly predicted depression levels in centenarians. The relationship between tension and depression, however, was mediated by health appraisals. Centenarians high in tension were more likely to indicate that their health stood in the way of "doing the things they wanted to do." This health appraisal, in turn, predicted higher levels of depression.
Personality also was a predictor of cognition, physical health, and loneliness in centenarians of the Georgia Centenarian Study (Martin, Hagberg, & Poon, 1997). Study participants with high levels of anxiety were more likely to score lower on cognitive functioning and on physical health but were more likely to score higher on loneliness after controlling for physical health and social support.
In sum, personality traits can influence the level of adaptation in very late life. Centenarians high in emotional stability and with a sense of self security appeared to adapt best, whereas centenarians with relatively high levels of neuroticism were more likely to encounter difficulties in their ADLs and mental health functioning.
CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
It is encouraging seeing that most centenarian studies now include measures of personality and coping. Much can be learned from the unique characteristics that centenarians bring to everyday life, and many of the positive attributes that are found in narrative descriptions and formal assessments balance the reports of physical and functional decline in this oldest age group. After all, there is something fascinating and vibrant about individuals who have lived a full century of life. Notwithstanding the great advances made in the study of centenarians' personal characteristics, much work lies ahead. A few directions should be taken in future research. First, more work needs to be done on the conceptual and theoretical level. second, the mechanism by which personality exerts an effect on survivorship needs to be addressed more rigorously. Finally, we need to expand the assessment of personality beyond trait measures.
Several conceptual models of longevity include personality as an important predictor of survivorship, but there is almost no discussion about the relative importance of personality traits and states in survivorship and adaptation. We have argued elsewhere that personality should be seen as an important personal resource, and resources can help explain survivorship (Martin, 2002; Martin & Martin, 2002). How personality interacts with other resources such as social support, socioeconomic status, and genetic markers is largely unknown. The psycho-physiological model of functional aging introduced by Hagberg and Nordbeck (2000) is a useful start to link personality with life experiences, physiological reactions, and biological structures that in combination predict longevity, functional aging, and quality of life. In addition to these comprehensive models, perhaps more specific models are needed that focus primarily on the link between personality and survivorship.
The second goal for future research should be to delineate the mechanisms by which personality may contribute to longevity and adaptation in very late life. For example, a meta-analysis assessing behavioral contributors to mortality showed that conscientiousness was negatively related to all risky health-related behaviors and positively related to all beneficial health-related behaviors (Bogg & Roberts, 2004). We do not know whether the path from personality via health behaviors to mortality can also be found for individuals who survive from 80 to 100 years of age.
One of the shortcomings of most approaches to the study of personality characteristics is their predominant reliance on personality traits. Additional approaches, such as developmental regulation (Heckhausen & Schulz, 1995), could inform us in more depth about how centenarians have managed throughout their lives. Hooker and McAdams (2003) also broadened the perspective of personality studies by including structural and process elements-such as traits, characteristic adaptations, and life stories (as structure) and states, self regulation, and self-narration (as process). These are useful approaches to enhancing our understanding of survivorship into very late life and may help to refine the relative importance of personality in the study of exceptional survival.
How can existing findings concerning personality and coping help develop new approaches to the study of survivorship characteristics in centenarians? Figure 6.2 summarizes what is known about the relative importance of personality traits and states in centenarians and indicates what aspects also might make important future contributions to research on centenarians. The four clusters entail personality traits and states as well as coping and lifestory components. These may all be important for survivorship into very late life. Regarding personality traits, the most consistent characteristics necessary for survival appear to be high levels of emotional stability (or low levels of neuroticism) and high levels of conscientiousness. In regard to personality states, both overcoming fatigue (with higher levels of energy) and counting on state extraversion seem to allow centenarians to turn on a state characteristic (i.e., state extraversion) when necessary, but also to turn it off when energy reserves are depleted. On the behavioral side of personality, centenarians may increasingly rely on cognitive, religious, and spiritual modes of coping when dealing with problems, because more direct behavioral coping modes are increasingly hard to use. There are many examples of centenarians cognitively working through their own limitations-for instance, by writing poetry (Poon, clayton, & Martin, 1991). Finally, centenarians define themselves not only by their current traits or coping behaviors, but they also draw upon and share their personal experiences and their life stories that have made them who they are in very late life. Experiential gains obtained over the life span and losses encountered are important parts of the self-definition of centenarians and should be studied in more depth.
Overall, the consideration of personality of centenarians is a promising subject matter when studying longevity and adaptation. A comprehensive assessment will allow for a thorough understanding of who these long-lived individuals are, what they have in common, and what distinguishes them from each other. Their characteristics, behaviors, and life stories can teach lessons of adaptation and survival. When studying personality among centenarians, we not only learn something about these expert survivors, but ultimately we learn something about aging processes that apply to other adults as well.
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Peter Martin, PhD
Professor and Director
Iowa State University
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Personality and Coping among Centenarians. Contributors: Martin, Peter - Author. Journal title: Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics. Volume: 27. Publication date: January 1, 2007. Page number: 89+. © Springer Publishing Company 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.