The attitudes we espouse impact our behaviors, and new research has reaffirmed this truism as it pertains to positive aging. The researchers tested the notion of whether positive expectations surrounding the aging process would affect older adults’ proclivity to maintain or strengthen their social support systems into later life.
While prior studies have centered on how negative beliefs about the aging process are related to lowered mental and physical health, less attention has been devoted to the opposite side of the spectrum with respect to positive attitudes and the social domain of the older adult. For example, we know from prior research that expectations about social rejection can lead to self-fulling prophecies in which individuals act in a manner that leads them to be more likely to experience rejection. However, what of expectations that are more positive?
To answer this question, researchers analyzed archival data from the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial for expectations about the aging process in conjunction with individuals’ social connections and friendships at three points in time over a span of two years. In total, 520 individuals ages 60 and better—who were predominantly African American (93 percent) and female (85 percent)—completed measures about their expectations regarding aging, new friendship formation, perceived support, desire for additional support, and loneliness. In support of the researchers’ hypotheses, participants’ initial levels of positive expectations about aging were significantly related to the number of new friends they made two years later. However, this finding was only apparent among participants who started out with at least mean levels of general social support. In other words, older adults with significantly low social support did not display the same positive relationship between attitudes about aging and social support.
Although examining friendship formation in tandem with positive expectations about aging is somewhat new, initial findings are promising. This research suggests that older adults’ beliefs regarding the aging process may impact a wide range of social phenomena in later life.
Menkin JA, Robles TF, Gruenewald TL, et al. Positive expectations regarding aging linked to more new friends in later life. The Journals of Gerontology: B Series Psychological Sciences & Social Sciences (2016); 1–11.