It’s time we copied traditional cultures who revere and honor their elders. See below how positive messages impacted a group aged 60-99: positive “subliminal messages gave them as great an advantage as seniors in another study who exercised for six months. ” It even improved their physical well-being!
WSJ: I’s hard to avoid feeling that there is something deeply and particularly wrong about the way we treat old age in American culture right now. Instead of seeing honor and dignity, sagacity and wisdom in the old, we see only pathology and pathos.
Could these cultural attitudes actually make the biological facts of aging worse?
A striking new study in the journal Psychological Science by Becca Levy at the Yale School of Public Health and colleagues suggests that cultural attitudes and physical well-being are far more closely intertwined than we might have thought. Exposing people to positive messages about aging, even through completely unconscious messages, actually makes them function better physically. In fact, the unconscious positive messages are more effective than conscious positive thinking.
The researchers looked at 100 older people aged 60 to 99. Every week for four weeks, they asked the participants to detect flashing lights on a screen and to write an essay. Words appeared on the flashing screen for a split second — so briefly that the participants didn’t know they were there. One group saw positive words about aging, such as “spry” and “wise,” then wrote an essay on a topic that had nothing to do with aging. Another group saw random letter combinations and then wrote an essay that described a thriving senior. A third group got both of the positive experiences, and a fourth got both neutral experiences.
Three weeks later, the researchers measured the elderly participants’ image of older people, in general, and their own self-image. They also gave them a standard medical test. It measured how well the seniors functioned physically — things like how easy it was to get up and down from a chair and how long it took to walk a few feet.
The people who had seen the positive messages — three weeks earlier, for only a split second, without knowing it — felt better about aging than those who hadn’t. Even more surprisingly, they also did much better on the physical tests. In fact, the subliminal messages gave them as great an advantage as seniors in another study who exercised for six months.
Consciously writing a positive essay didn’t have the same effect. This may be because consciously trying to think positively could be undermined by equally conscious skepticism (thriving seniors — yeah, right).