What is it about?

Prolonging life is a dream of mankind whose fulfillment is promised alternately by biological research, nutritional medicine or anti-aging medicine. In this context, psychosocial factors are often neglected, although their enormous potential has been known for decades. Two researchers from Greifswald University Medicine, Prof. Susanne Wurm and Dr. Sarah Schäfer, have now come to the conclusion in the international "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology" that our views of aging can lead to a 13-year difference in life expectancy. In 1996, 2,400 participants in the German Ageing Survey, then aged between 40 and 85, were asked about their views on aging. Over the following 23 years documentation was made of who died and when, with a total of 871 people deceased. We already knew from a study published 2002 by B. R. Levy examining 660 people in the U.S. also over 23 years that people with a positive view on aging lived 7 years longer. Our study now provides evidence on a larger scale for Germany that people who perceive aging as a process of development live as much as 13 years longer.

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Why is it important?

Population aging worldwide is growing at an unprecedented pace and intensity. This demographic change will affect nearly every aspect of society. The World Health Organization has therefore proclaimed the years 2021 to 2030 as the Decade of Healthy Aging and set the goal of questioning perceptions of age and reducing ageism. This is precisely what the current study has now achieved. In contrast to the earlier study, the present study did not restrict itself to examining the effect of positive views on aging on longevity in general terms. Instead the present study differentiated between different views on aging that people have regarding specific domains of life. This made it possible to compare which of these views are significant for a long life. We have now been able to show for the first time that people who associate aging with personal development, that is, who want to realize many ideas and plans and continue to learn new things, do live longer. What is remarkable is that whether or not people associate aging with physical or social losses is comparatively irrelevant. We know from many other studies which psychological and health-related factors contribute to longevity. We included these in our study to make sure that views on aging can explain longevity beyond factors that are already known. And this is indeed the case.


The findings provide sound evidence of the importance of supporting people in actively managing their aging. The arch enemy of healthy aging that emerges is the attitude of setting limits on oneself while claiming it is too late for certain plans and activities. People learn negative views on aging throughout their lives and therefore tend to apply them to themselves when they are old. It is important to overcome this age self-discrimination.

Susanne Wurm
University Medicine Greifswald, Germany - Dpt. of Prevention Research and Social Medicine

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Gain- but not loss-related self-perceptions of aging predict mortality over a period of 23 years: A multidimensional approach., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, February 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000412.
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