Ageing — it's all in the mind
As the brilliant Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer’s Counterclockwise study shows, our mind has a powerful effect on how we feel, how we look and how we are physiologically. And although the initial experiment is almost 40 years old, the results are still so powerful.
In her experiment, Langer had eight men over 70 live in a retreat in New Hampshire for five days, where they spoke in the present tense as if they were 22 years younger. The retreat was filled with iconic products from the 50’s to further convince the men that they had returned to their youthful past. Before arriving at the retreat, the men were measured to assess their physical strength, their dexterity, grip strength, and flexibility, their hearing and vision, as well as their cognitive abilities, specifically their memory. After five days acting as their younger selves, they were assessed again. All eight participants showed marked improvements in their hearing, memory, dexterity, appetite, and general well-being. They even looked younger to outside observers who saw photos of them in before and after the experiment.
Langer, now 71 and the longest serving professor of psychology at Harvard, has conducted numerous other studies to demonstrate the difference our mindset can make. She believes influencing our mindset can counteract and even overcome assumptions about our physiological limits. “We have a lot more control over our health and well-being than many people realise. My hope is that people will come to that realisation,” Langer says. By bringing her subjects’ minds back in time, Langer created an environment that freed the men from feeling constrained by the stereotypes and low expectations society constructs around old age. This freedom empowered and enabled the subjects, resulting in physical and cognitive improvements that demonstrate we may be capable of much more than we realise, if only we believe in ourselves, and each other.
"They even looked younger to outside observers who saw photos of them before and after the experiment."
This has huge implications for our general health, not just ageing, but also for our fundamental happiness too. In our view this is a clear message to the NHS and the government — stop talking about ageing as a problem, it is making us ill. We all need to stop stereotyping 'older' and embrace age-inclusivity and age-neutrality. This is clearly good for all our health — across all ages.
You can find out more about Ellen Langer's work here aswell as find out how to get a copy of her Counterclockwise book.
"Stop talking about ageing as a problem, it is making us ill."