Plasticity: Attitudes and Social Cognition

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 (see Figure 1), 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. Our major goal is to better understand aging and social cognitive processes, as well as to improve older adults’ health and their adaptive capacity in dealing with aging-related challenges in daily life. In our current research we investigate (1) aging-related changes in attitudes, as well as (2) self and identity processes in later adulthood.

Figure 1. The dynamic interplay of aging-related changes, attitudes and social cognitive processes, as well as health and performance.


(1) Aging-Related Changes in Attitudes

We are interested in understanding the role of attitudes to explain the diversity of aging. We study how attitudes change across the lifespan, for example, in the context of major life transitions (e.g., retirement). In addition, we are interested in the dynamic relationship of images of aging and self-perception. Finally, we investigate how essentialist beliefs relating to the nature of aging influence psychological well-being and physical functioning.

Project Team:
David Weiss, (PI), Ursula M. Staudinger, Stephanie Grah and Kalon Wang

Key Publications:
Bowen, C. E., & Staudinger, U. M. (2013). Relationship between age and promotion orientation depends on perceived older worker stereotypes. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68, 59-63.[PDF]

Weiss, D (in press). What will remain when we are gone? Finitude and generation identity in the second half of life. Psychology and Aging.


(2) Self and Identity Processes

Our research suggests that the anticipatable nature of aging allows people to adjust to aging-related changes. In this context, we investigate self-protective mechanisms, for example, how adopting and rejecting age identities function to help people maintain physical and mental health in later adulthood. Specifically, by highlighting the dynamic nature of self and identity processes, we have shown in previous research that activating negative age stereotypes triggers older adults’ (1) distancing, (2) differentiation, and (3) shifting to alternative age identities (i.e., dual age identity). In our current research, we examine the adaptive flexibility of self and identity processes in later adulthood.

Project Team:
David Weiss, (PI), Ursula M. Staudinger, Anne Reitz, Stephanie Grah and Kalon Wang

Key Publications:
Weiss, D., Sassenberg, K., & Freund, A. M. (2013). When Feeling Different Pays Off: How Older Adults Can Counteract Negative Age-Related Information. Psychology and Aging, 28, 1140-6. doi: 10.1037/a0033811 [PDF]

Weiss, D., & Lang, F. R. (2012). “They” are old but “I” feel younger: Age-group dissociation as a self-protective strategy in old age. Psychology and Aging, 27, 153-63. doi:10.1037/a0024887 [PDF]