For Older Adults, Sense of Control Tied to Feeling Younger
New research on the psychology of aging
For Immediate Release
A recent study on the psychology of aging finds that older adults feel younger when they feel that they have more control over their daily lives, regardless of stress or health concerns. However, stress and health – not a sense of control – play a significant role in how old younger adults feel.
“We recently found that there are things older adults can do to improve their feelings of control in their everyday lives,” says Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and co-author of a paper on the work. “Now this study highlights how those feelings of control influence perceptions of age. The more control older adults think they have, the younger they feel.”
For this study, researchers had 116 older adults (ages 60-90) and 107 younger adults (ages 18-36) fill out a daily survey for eight consecutive days. Study participants were asked questions aimed at assessing their daily stresses, physical health, sense of control over their daily lives, and how old they felt.
“Everyone’s sense of control fluctuates from day to day, or even over the course of a day – that’s normal,” Neupert says. “We found that when older adults felt more in control, they also felt younger. That was true even when accounting for stress and physical health.”
However, an individual’s sense of control had no bearing on self-perceptions of age for young adults. But stress and adverse changes in health did make young people feel older.
“This highlights the importance of having older adults retain some sense of autonomy,” Neupert says. “It’s not just a nice thing to do, it actually affects their well-being.”
The paper, “Feeling Young and in Control: Daily Control Beliefs are associated with Younger Subjective Ages,” is published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. First author on the paper is Jennifer Bellingtier, a former Ph.D. student at NC State who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Friedrich Schiller University Jena. The work was done with support from NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.
“Feeling Young and in Control: Daily Control Beliefs are associated with Younger Subjective Ages”
Authors: Jennifer A. Bellingtier, Friedrich Schiller University Jena; Shevaun D. Neupert, North Carolina State University
Published: March 15, Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences
Objectives: Daily variations in control beliefs are associated with developmental outcomes. We predicted that on days when older adults feel more in control than their personal average, they would also report feeling younger, and explored the relationship in younger adults.
Methods: 116 older and 107 younger adults completed a 9-day daily diary study. On Day 1 participants reported on demographic variables. On Days 2-9, participants reported their daily subjective age, daily control beliefs, daily stressors, and daily physical health symptoms. All measures were completed online via Qualtrics. Results were analyzed using multilevel models.
Results: Controlling for age, gender, education, daily stressors, daily physical health, and average control, there was a significant main effect of daily control beliefs on daily subjective age. Older adults felt significantly younger on days with a greater sense of control than usual, but this effect was absent in younger adults. For younger adults, average exposure to daily stressors and daily fluctuations in physical health were better predictors of daily subjective age.
Discussion: These findings suggest that higher daily control is associated with younger subjective ages in older adults, whereas other factors may play a more central role in the daily variations of younger adults’ subjective ages.