Attitudes and social cognitive processes are central determinants of resilience and positive plasticity in aging. In our research, we are interested in the implications of attitudes on how people grow older. Thus, to investigate the interplay of aging-related changes, attitudes, as well as health and performance, we use a multi-method approach including cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental designs. In our research we study biomarkers, implicit measures, eye tracking, content analysis, and self-report.
The Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center conducts work across several research areas and is in the process of developing new foci. The Center sponsors Faculty Research Fellowships to further understanding of the positive modifiability of aging.
Patient-centered technologies created for older adults can expand access to care, improve the care process, and reduce costs. Telemedicine and technology are progressing rapidly and must take into account the aging population and their unique needs. Research focused on expanding self-management of chronic diseases and coordinated care between providers, caregivers and older adults is greatly needed. The Columbia Aging Center aims to advance the health of a society by taking full advantage of the available information technologies.
In this research area, we are interested in the conditions that help to unfold the positive plasticity of different dimensions of psycholgical functioning such as cognition, emotion, and personality during adulthood and old age. Conceptual work in this area reviews available psychological evidence and connects it to institutional and legal conditions. In the past, we have established physical exercise as an important behavioral condition that improves cognitive performance and reactivates brain functioning and reactivates brain functioning (Voelcker-Rehage, Godde, & Staudinger,2010). More recently, this work has expanded to also cover activity interventions be it in the realm of work or volunteering. Besides cognitive functioning we have also been interested in personality and emotional functioning.
Here we have three examples of faculty's work in the realm of resilience: Linda P. Fried, MD; Matthew Baldwin, MD; and Guohua Li, DrPH, MD.
In this research area, we are interested in the measurement of wisdom and the investigation of its development as well as its plasticity across the lifespan. First, an empirical paradigm for the study of general wisdom was successfully established. Later, a paradigm measuring personal wisdom was added and it was demonstrated that it is useful to distinguish general from personal wisdom. They show different developmental trajectories and convergent as well as divergent validity.
Modern notions of development, such as the lifespan approach, claim that human development is the result of the interaction between three different sources: biology (maturation/senescence), culture (learning), and the individual person (decision/action). This leaves much room for variation between individuals; this potential for variation and change is labelled plasticity (e.g., Staudinger, Marsiske & Baltes, 1995). More specifically, plasticity is defined as the divergence of an individual’s development from the average developmental trajectory, for better or for worse. Two types of “positive” plasticity need to be distinguished: resilience and growth. Plasticity is dependent on available internal or external resources.
Epigenetics is typically defined as the study of heritable changes in gene expression that are not due to changes in DNA sequence. Diverse biological properties can be affected by epigenetic mechanisms: for example, the morphology of flowers and eye colour in fruitflies.
Epigenetic changes are crucial for the development and differentiation of the various cell types in an organism, as well as for normal cellular processes such as X-chromosome inactivation in female mammals and silencing of mating-type loci in yeast. However, epigenetic states can become disrupted by environmental influences or during ageing, and the importance of epigenetic changes in the development of cancer and other diseases is increasingly being appreciated.