Behavior and Personality in the Study of Successful Aging

Judith Corr and Loraine Tarou

Although science has greatly extended human longevity, efforts to improve the quality of life experience for older people must be increased if we are to avoid creating a generation of long-lived, but isolated, lonely, and inactive elders. Ultimately, the goal in any investigation of human aging should be to both extend and improve the quality of life for increasing numbers of elderly. It is argued here that it is essential to expand aging research designs to include both biological and behavioral variables whenever possible, so that a more complete understanding of growing older as the culmination of multiple processes can be achieved. The search for a general, theoretical framework of human aging has been largely unsuccessful, perhaps because all primates, human and nonhuman, become aged within a complex network of varying environments and social structures. Also, individuals react differently to the same conditions, making differences among members of the same species critical in the understanding of the individual aging experience. Along with predictable biomarkers of aging, there may be a set of identifiable behavioral traits that cross-culturally influence successful human aging. Behavioral traits that are consistent over time are termed personality. Use of personality testing in humans and nonhuman primates, using the Big Five, is reviewed, and new directions for aging investigations are suggested.

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