Handbook of the Psychology of Aging, 7th Edition

By Spaniol, Julia | Canadian Psychology, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Handbook of the Psychology of Aging, 7th Edition


Spaniol, Julia, Canadian Psychology


Handbook of the Psychology of Aging, 7th Edition, by K. Warner Schaie and Sherry L. Willis (Eds.). Massachusetts: Academic Press, 2011, 434 pages (ISBN 978-0-123-80882-0. $99.95)

Reviewed by JULIA SPANIOL

DOI: 10.1037/a0025469

The Handbook of the Psychology of Aging has been a fixture since its inception in 1977. The sixth edition was published only five years ago, but the arrival of its successor, edited by K. Warner Schaie and Sherry L. Willis, does not feel premature given the rapid recent progress in many areas of aging research.

Although the departure of former senior editor James E. Birren has given rise to a "generational turnover" (p. xi), the new volume keeps alive the interdisciplinary spirit of the series by continuing to combine cutting-edge basic and applied perspectives from a diverse set of contributors. Section editors and authors include senior figures in the field who have contributed to prior volumes of the Handbook, as well as new scientific leaders who may not yet be "household names." Unfortunately, there is less cultural diversity among the authors than one would wish for. Most authors are North American and report primarily on U.S. and Canada-based research, although the volume includes contributions from Western European and Australian scientists. To a large extent, this reflects the reality of a predominantly Western research community. One hopes that regions with growing visibility in the area of aging research (e.g., Eastern Europe, Northeast Asia) will gradually gain representation in the mainstream literature, and in future editions of the Handbook.

The volume is organized into four sections: theory and methods, neuroscience and cognition, social and health factors, and psychopathology. Each section contains 3-8 chapters of varying structure and length. With the exception of the first section, each section includes topics that were not included, or received significantly less coverage, in prior editions.

The first section opens with a scholarly reflection on classic themes of aging research. Roger A. Dixon pays homage to three major theorists (Paul Baltes, Tim Salthouse, and, appropriately, the Handbook's founding editor, James Birren). He uses their work to illuminate the evolution of themes (e.g., global vs. local theories, complexity vs. simplicity, age-related losses vs. gains; pp. 5-6), and to pinpoint current trends within each theme. The chapter convincingly makes the case for more widespread use of "epidemiological approaches" (p. 14) to gain insight into the multifactorial determinants of age-related change. Longitudinal themes also dominate Chapter 2 (longitudinal research design and analysis, by Ferrer and Ghisletta) and Chapter 3 (historical influences on aging, by Schaie). In contrast, most of the basic research discussed in the remainder of the Handbook, particularly in the neurocognitive section, is cross-sectional. Indeed, despite its limitations, the cross-sectional literature will continue to grow as empirical work becomes more complex and expensive (e.g., neuroimaging), and as the scope of theories shifts increasingly toward the "local" end of the local-global continuum. This reader, therefore, wished for a discussion of how large-scale longitudinal and small-scale crosssectional work might be more effectively integrated in the future.

Compared with previous editions, coverage of neurocognitive aspects of aging is significantly expanded in the current Handbook. Part 2 includes chapters on executive function (Luszcz), structural brain changes (Rodrigue & Kennedy), behavioural genetics (Kremen & Lyons), neuroplasticity (Park & Bischof), neuroimaging of memory (Nyberg & Bäckman), decision making (Peters et al), and cognitive interventions (Stine-Morrow & Basak). All chapters provide excellent up-to-date empirical reviews, but vary with respect to theoretical integration. Particularly strong in this regard is the neuroplasticity chapter, which uses an explicit conceptual framework to organise and interpret the evidence for behavioural and brain plasticity. …

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