The Aging Psyche

By Butler, Robert N. | Issues in Science and Technology, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

The Aging Psyche


Butler, Robert N., Issues in Science and Technology


"Growing Old or Living Long: Take Your Pick" (Issues, Winter 2007) by Laura L. Carstensen is a succinct summary of a growing body of work of great importance to our understanding of the psychological and emotional processes of aging; in particular, motivation. The work focuses on the real-life conditions of older people. What was once the privilege of the few has become the common destiny of the many, and the work Carstensen and her colleagues pursue directly benefits those who are living longer. She continues to explore what she calls socioemotional selectivity theory, a life-span theory of motivation.

According to Carstensen, when conditions create a sense of the fragility of life, both younger and older people prefer to pursue emotionally meaningful experiences and goals. The prospect of death contracts the sense of time and may be particularly relevant to the role of motivation in autobiographical memory.

It is reminiscent of an early paper by Eduardo Krapf, who wrote of the atrophy of a sense of the future, or "Torschsluspanik": "panic at the closing door of the gate" ["On Ageing," Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 41 (1953): 957-963]. …

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