Chapter 1 Aging

Hello and welcome to your first post!

Why do you age? This week’s post takes a look at the 4 main theories of aging, however, you will need to take a look at each one to decide how you will prioritize. (At the end of the Module, chapter 1, there is a complete description of this post…please read through before posting.)

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Chapter One provides an introduction to the field of Adult Development, with an emphasis placed on the concept that development does not occur in a vacuum, but rather is a lifelong process reflecting systematic changes that allow people to adapt to their ever-changing environment. This may sound like common sense, but it wasn’t that long ago that theorists had a more “philosophical” approach to adult development and it was believed that once you hit about age 25, that was it. No more growth, no more taking in new experiences, no way to change those awful habits you have (ouch), life was pretty much at a standstill.


I.    Why Study Adult Development?


A.     An Aging Population

1.         Historically speaking, it is a new and fairly recent situation to have such a large percentage of older adults in society.

2.         For Americans born in 1900, the life expectancy was 47.3 years.

3.         For those born in 1950, the life expectancy was 68.2 years.

4.         Those born in 2000 have a projected life expectancy of 76.9 years

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2007), a stunning 29.6 years longer than those born 100 years earlier.

5.         In the early 1900s, less than 5% of Americans lived to age 65 or older, whereas in 1995 the percentage had risen to 80%

(Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000).


6.         The “graying” of the world’s citizens



a.         In high-income, developed countries, the increased life expectancies and falling fertility rates will add momentum to the already apparent shift toward an older population.


B.     Challenging Issues

1.         Introduction

a.         The rapidly increasing number of adults in their 60s and beyond brings with it the demand for information from those trying to meet current needs and prepare for the future.

b.         In terms of the academic study of adult development and aging, there are theoretical issues that must be considered.

2.         The Challenges

a.         Accepting and utilizing the multidisciplinary nature of the study of adulthood.

b.         Finding the balance between highlighting the things younger, middle-aged, and older adults have in common and bringing to light the diversity in adult populations

c.         Dealing with the limited resources available for research.





II.        A Psychological Approach to Adult Development and Aging


A.     Multidisciplinary and Multifaceted Endeavor

1.         The study of adult development and aging is multidisciplinary and multifaceted.

2.         Reflecting similarities and differences across disciplines as well as among areas of emphasis within disciplines


B.     The Developmental Psychological Perspective

1.         Developmental psychology can be defined as the scientific study of the ways mental and behavioral processes change within individuals over time.



III.      Multiple Dimensions of Age


A.     Critical Differences

1.         Childhood generally covers about 12 years while adulthood can cover 60 years or more

2.         Segmenting Adulthood

a.         Young adulthood—18-20 years old to 40-45 years old

b.         Middle adulthood—40-45 years old to 60-65 years old

c.       Late adulthood— 60-65 years old to end of life


3.         Age Divisions serve as efficient labels for loosely-grouped age-related


a.         Roles

b.         Stereotypes

c.         Expectations




B.     Normative age-graded influences

1.         Definition: Typical events or influences with a strong relationship to age

a.    Example:  typical age to start elementary school


2.         Chronological age is more descriptive for children than adults

a.       Significant differences between a 3 month old and a 3 year old

b.        Differences between a 43-year-old and a 53-year old may not be as dramatic using only age as a predictor.


C.      Functional Age

1.        How an adult functions on various domains provides a practical profile

2.         DOMAINS of Functional Age

a.     Biological Age—comparison of an individual’s health, particularly vital organ systems, to others of similar chronological age.


b.         Psychological Age—comparing one’s ability to adjust and cope with changes in the environment to others of similar chronological age.

c.         Social Age—comparing one’s social roles and expectations to chronological age and overall functioning.


D.        Age-Related Influences

1.            Normative history-graded influences: influences experienced by a culture or society at a particular point in history that may eventually define a generation (e.g., Great Depression, WWII)


2.            Cohort:  a group of people who have grown up together and have similar normative-history graded experiences

3.            Non-normative influences: chance occurrences (e.g., winning a large sum of money in a lottery) that may influence a life




IV.      Metatheories as Philosophies of Development


A.        Introduction: Developmental psychologists have found three metatheories useful in organizing knowledge and designing research (worldviews or metamodels).


B.     Mechanistic Metatheory

1.         Metaphor:  employs a machine metaphor

a.         Human beings are machine-like in that they are comprised of many interacting parts.

b.         Goal of research is to figure out what the parts are, how they work, and then how to manipulate them.

2.         Emphasis is on the ways the environment acts on an individual and that individual’s behavioral response.

3.         Research approach: continuous, quantitative approach

4.         Example: May use behavioral analysis methodology to design a conditioning program to enhance performance. By engaging in a practice program (training) and by competing for an incentive, such as desirable prizes for those who remember the most words accurately (reinforcement), it is likely that participants’ scores will improve.



C.      Organismic Metatheory

1.         Metaphor: employs a biology/organism metaphor

2.         Emphasizes individuals’ genetically predetermined patterns of development, which are revealed through maturation and influenced by stimulation from the environment

3.         Development is characterized by transitions or cycles of rapid spurts of growth or decline, and stages, periods of stability, or plateau

4.         Research approach: the discontinuous qualitative change inherent in stage



D.     Contextual Metatheory

1.         Dominant philosophy in developmental psychology

2.         Provides a middle ground in emphasizing the continual interaction of both internal and external influences

3.         Baltes and his colleagues have led the way in documenting the evolution of lifespan psychology in general, and the study of adult development and aging in particular.

a.         Through their work, they have found seven core assumptions consistent with the contextual metatheoretical view that influences current lifespan developmental theory.

(1)        Development is viewed as a lifelong process.

(2)        Life involves simultaneous processes of gains and lsses.

(3)    Current emphasis in lifespan development theory is on the mutlidirectionality of development.

(4)        Contextualism is evident through the influences of normative age-graded, normative history-graded and non-normative influences for individuals.

(5)        Developmental pathways possess the characteristic of plasticity [rather than rigid or set pathways].

(6)        Lifespan developmental theory is part of a multidisciplinary study of development that includes not only other social sciences, such as sociology and political science, but also wider-ranging fields such as medical and biological sciences



V.        Theoretical Approaches to Adult Development and Aging


A.     Biological Theories

1.         The biological theories emphasize the ways our genetically initiated developmental processes are shaped by external influences. In other words, these are the theories which discuss why we might age a specific way, but remember, these are theories.


2.         Programmed theories of biological aging

a.         Propose that a biological timetable controls the aging process

b.         Programmed Theory Examples

(1)        The programmed longevity theory looks for mechanisms that switch certain genes on and off, resulting in deficits associated with aging.

(2)        The endocrine theory involves the search for hormonal actions that control the biological clock and speed of the aging process.

(3)        Immunological theory highlights increased vulnerability to infections and diseases through a programmed decline in immune system functions. Sometimes called the immune clock, our immune system reaches its strongest during adolescence and begins weakening after age 20.


3.    Continued     

a.         Examine these additional, accidental, or external influences on physiological aging


b.         Error Theory Examples

(1)        Wear and tear theory proposes that cells and tissues simply wear out over time.  Often referred to as cell senescence, researchers have found that cells will, at some point, stop proliferating.

(2)        Rate of living theory highlights the simple, yet profound, notion that organisms have a finite set of resources and energy, and once those are used up the organism cannot continue to live.

(3)        Crosslinking theory focuses on the tendency of glucose (blood sugar) molecules to attach themselves to proteins, causing many further changes and reactions.

(4)        Free radical theory, first proposed in the mid-1950s, highlights the accumulated damage caused by oxygen radicals.

(5)        Somatic DNA damage theory emphasizes cell deterioration and malfunction due to genetic mutations that accumulate with age.



B.     Connectionist Approaches

1.         Emphasize the role of cognitive psychology

2.         Propose that development involves making associations between basic items or pieces of information, referred to as units, in order to form a network of associations


C.      Sociocultural Theories

1.         Sociocultural theories focus more on the larger, external forces that shape behavior, such as societal and cultural expectations.

2.         Sociocultural Theory Example

a.         Bioecological theory (Bronfenbrenner) – interactions are represented in a hierarchical model with the inner layers exerting a more direct impact on the individual as compared to the outer layers. Bronfenbrenner’s notion of multiple-person systems and multiple levels of interactions distinguish it from other ecological models.



D.     Selection, Optimization, and Compensation Theory (SOC)

1.           Provides a structure around which researchers can organize data about aging and make predictions about future courses of action

2.           Describes the ways individuals manage the gains and losses accompanying each phase of life by selecting the best option from realistic choices, optimizing strengths and resources, and compensating for losses by adjusting strategies or goals

3.           SOC model is perhaps the most encompassing of the theories – allows for many individual differences, personal circumstances, and larger environmental influences

4.           Consistent with the contextual Metatheory


VI.      Scientific Study of Adult Development and Aging



A.     Scientific Approach

1.             Psychology relies on scientifically informed methods of data collection, analysis, and interpretation in order to provide objectivity in reporting research findings.

2.        Research In-Depth: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Studies

a.        Cross-Sectional Study:  people in different ages are tested at the same point in time and compared

b.        Longitudinal Study:   following the development of the same group of people over time.



B.     Ethically Sound Research


1.         Among the important topics covered in the federal guidelines for research with human participants is the requirement of informed consent .


Assignment for Chapter 1 is in “Assignments”

Post Question #1, worth 10 points.

There are 4 theories of aging: Biological Theories, Connectionist Approach, Sociocultural Theories, and Selection, Optimization, and Compensation Theory (SOC).  1) Prioritize these theories; 2) choose the one which you feel best explains the process of aging. For this post, you must support your position, not just discuss the theory.

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