Although prior research has shown that social relations are fundamental to the experience of aging well, and that social relations may either improve or have a deleterious impact on the psychological and physical health of older adults, we know very little about the specific social behaviors that underlie these effects. The purpose of the proposed investigation is to address this gap in the literature by identifying specific social behaviors that are responsible for the effects of social relations on health and well-being in older adulthood. In particular, this project will focus on social behaviors that (a) occur within the closest relationships of older adults and (b) involve the support of older adults'exploration, goal strivings, and continued self-growth. This type of support is referred to as the provision of a """"""""secure base"""""""" from which individuals are able to continue to grow and thrive. This topic is important given that prior research has shown that older adults who remain invested in personal goals are healthier than those who disengage from aspirations that give meaning to their lives. This investigation will address 4 specific aims: (1) Identify social behaviors that support versus hinder older adults'exploration, goal strivings, and self-growth (referred to as secure base support behavior). (2) Examine the effects of secure base support behavior on older adults'psychological and physical health. (3) Identify pathways by which secure base support behaviors (and lack thereof) are likely to influence older adults'psychological and physical health. (4) Consider the influence of personality (attachment style) and demographics (gender, race, SES) on social behaviors surrounding the provision and receipt of secure base support in older adulthood. A sample of 250 older adults (aged 65 and older) and their spouses will complete three initial waves of data collection: (1) a survey session, (2) a laboratory observational and physiological recording session, and (3) a 7-day daily diary. Follow-up surveys will be sent to participants for each of 2 years following their initial participation, which will permit an examination of the long-term effects of secure base behaviors on the exploration behavior, as well as the psychological and physical health, of older adults. A focus on social behaviors surrounding secure base support puts the spotlight on older adults'capacities to thrive and flourish, and it answers researchers'call for aging research that goes beyond considerations of the absence of illness into considerations of the presence of wellness. Because research linking goals and well- being in old age is relatively recent, because self-growth has been a neglected topic in aging research, because relationship dynamics that contribute to these processes have been unexamined, and because methods other than self-report (e.g., observational, physiological) have rarely been used to address any of these issues, the proposed investigation has great potential for establishing a core of information that (a) could form the foundation of future work with older adults and the foundation of future intervention studies, and (b) could inform public health and public policy, as well as clinical practice.

Public Health Relevance

Because a large segment of the """"""""baby boomer"""""""" population is currently entering their elder years, research examining the impact of relationships (social behaviors) on the health and well-being of the aging population has important implications for public health and public policy. First, this research will provide a foundation for the development of relationship interventions and public health programs that will enhance the health and well- being of older adults and the families in which they are embedded, and that will prevent the negative health consequences of poor social and family relations. Second, a population of healthy older adults will benefit society and public health initiatives in a number of ways (e.g., healthy older adults will be productive, able to care for others, able to mentor younger generations of people, and have a positive impact on the health care system). Third, the information obtained from the proposed investigation will be made publicly available (through news outlets, publications, course instruction, conference presentations, websites) so that older adults and their families can become aware of relational dynamics (social behaviors) that contribute to their health and well-being and strive to include these positive relational dynamics in their daily lives - thus promoting healthier lifestyles and healthier generations of people.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
Program Officer
Nielsen, Lisbeth
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Carnegie-Mellon University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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