Encyclopedia of Gerontology and Population Aging

Living Edition
| Editors: Danan Gu, Matthew E. Dupre

Geropsychology

  • Hans-Werner WahlEmail author
  • Eva-Luisa Schnabel
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-69892-2_98-1

Synonyms

Definition

Geropsychology is the area within psychology devoted to the study of aging (APA 2019). Although the focus of geropsychology is on later life, a life-span perspective is fundamental, hence old age is seen as inextricably linked with lifespan development as a whole (Schaie 2016).

Overview

Geropsychology addresses a broad range of domains such as cognitive abilities, personality, social-emotional functioning, as well as the mental health of older adults. Seen against other key disciplines, geropsychology concentrates more on individual behavior than on societal and biological processes as compared to the sociology of aging and biogerontology. Nevertheless, an increasing orientation toward combining biomarkers with traditional measures of geropsychology such as questionnaires has emerged with the goal to better understand the connection between biological and behavioral variables as people age (Kotter-Grühn et al. 2016).

Key Research Findings

Cognitive aging has likely received the most research attention so far in geropsychology. Robust findings mostly based on longitudinal studies underscore that cognitive abilities such as information processing speed, inductive reasoning, working memory, and verbal skills remain on average rather stable until the age of 65–70 years and then decline (Schaie 2013). However, large interindividual differences in cognitive aging exist depending on socio-structural, health, and lifestyle factors.

Further, trait personality development as reflected in the Big Five (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness), which has long been assumed as stable across the adult lifespan after the age of 30 years (McCrae and Costa 1994), should be reinterpreted as rather plastic according to more recent longitudinal research. Indeed, rank-order stability of the Big Five personality traits is decreasing as people age, particularly beyond the age of 80 years (Specht et al. 2011).

The so-called “well-being paradox” of aging describes the phenomenon that positive and negative affect, as well as satisfaction with life, remain on average rather stable until advanced old age despite substantial age-related losses. It has been shown that older adults have a broad range of developmental regulatory strategies at their disposal that allow the maintenance of well-being. For example, older adults adjust their life goals by disengaging from goals that are no longer attainable (Heckhausen et al. 2010).

Driven by socio-emotional selectivity theory, geropsychological research has also found that older adults are active and successful shapers of their social relations. The assumption that a shortened future time perspective is associated with an increased investment into less but more intimate social relations has found much empirical support (English and Carstensen 2017).

Finally, the subjective aging experience has seen intensive research in geropsychology. For example, Westerhof et al.’s (2014) meta-analysis has demonstrated that more positive attitudes toward one’s own aging are longitudinally linked with better health outcomes and lowered mortality rates.

Future Directions for Research

Longitudinal research as well as experimental study designs can be seen as the gold standard for geropsychological research. However, ecological momentary assessments (EMA), hence the intensive measurement of behavior across shorter time periods such as a week and frequently with several measurement points per day, have seen a tremendous increase during recent decades (Diehl et al. 2015). Thus, combining EMA with long-term study designs running across years and lab-based experimental studies that allow isolating certain mechanisms of interest (e.g., the time flow of emotional down-regulation after a stress occurrence) may become the new gold standard of geropsychology’s future.

Another emerging trend in geropsychology is to include a contextual perspective (Wahl and Gerstorf 2018). The basic idea is that analyzing the behavior of individuals without the empirical consideration of the respective context is oversimplifying and of low ecological validity (Diehl et al. 2017).

Cross-References

References

  1. American Psychological Association (2019) Psychology and aging: addressing mental health needs of older adults. https://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/aging.pdf. Accessed 18 Feb 2019
  2. Diehl M, Hooker K, Sliwinski MJ (2015) Handbook of intraindividual variability across the life span. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Diehl M, Wahl H-W, Freund A (2017) Ecological validity as a key feature of external validity in research on human development. Res Hum Dev 14:177–181.  https://doi.org/10.1080/15427609.2017.1340053CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. English T, Carstensen LL (2017) Socioemotional selectivity theory. In: Pachana NA (ed) Encyclopedia of geropsychology. Springer, Singapore, pp 2222–2227.  https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-082-7_110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Heckhausen J, Wrosch C, Schulz R (2010) A motivational theory of life-span development. Psychol Rev 117:32–60.  https://doi.org/10.1037/a0017668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Kotter-Grühn D, Kornadt AE, Stephan Y (2016) Looking beyond chronological age: current knowledge and future directions in the study of subjective age. Gerontology 62:86–93.  https://doi.org/10.1159/000438671CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. McCrae RR, Costa PT (1994) The stability of personality: observations and evaluations. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 3:173–175.  https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.ep10770693CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Schaie KW (2013) Developmental influences on adult intelligence: the Seattle Longitudinal Study, 2nd edn. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Schaie KW (2016) Theoretical perspectives for the psychology of aging in a lifespan context. In: Schaie KW, Willis SL (eds) Handbook of the psychology of aging, 8th edn. Academic, San Diego, pp 3–13.  https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-411469-2.00001-7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Specht J, Egloff B, Schmukle SC (2011) Stability and change of personality across the life course: the impact of age and major life events on mean-level and rank-order stability of the Big Five. J Pers Soc Psychol 101:862–882.  https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024950CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Wahl H-W, Gerstorf D (2018) A conceptual framework for studying context dynamics in aging (CODA). Dev Rev 50:155–176.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dr.2018.09.003CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Westerhof GJ, Miche M, Brothers AF, Barrett AE, Diehl M, Montepare JM, Wahl H-W, Wurm S (2014) The influence of subjective aging on health and longevity: a meta-analysis of longitudinal data. Psychol Aging 29:793–802.  https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038016CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Network Aging ResearchHeidelberg UniversityHeidelbergGermany

Section editors and affiliations

  • Susanne Wurm
    • 1
  • Anna E. Kornadt
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of PsychogerontologyFriedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-NürnbergNürnbergGermany
  2. 2.Bielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany