Monthly Archives: April 2013

Turn the Clock Back

Think yourself younger? Completely bogus, right? Wrong. In 1979, Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer conducted an experiment that proved you could indeed think yourself younger. Langer recruited a group of 75-year-old men to spend a week at a retreat center. They knew next to nothing about the experiment they were participating in except that they were instructed not to bring any pictures, newspapers, magazines, or books dated later than 1959.

Upon arrival at the retreat center, the men were told to pretend it was 1959 and they were once again 55 years old. They were issued badges with pictures of themselves in their mid-50s, and they were told to dress and act as they did at that time. Langer stocked old magazines and newspapers from 1959, and the men were instructed to talk about events from that period as if they were current. Langer hypothesized that our “mental construction”—the way we think about ourselves—directly influences the physical aging process. In other words, we can think ourselves younger. (Or older. But really, who wants to do that?)

Langer’s hypothesis was right on target. Before the experiment, the men were given a battery of tests that covered everything from physical strength and posture to cognition, perception, and short-term memory–all things we assume inevitably deteriorate with age. When the men were retested a week later, most of them had improved in every category. Their average eyesight improved by almost 10 percent; memory and even intelligence increased. Hand strength and flexibility improved as well. If that’s not surprising enough, random people asked to look at before and after pictures judged the subjects to be, on average, three years younger than when they arrived.

I was floored the first time I heard about Langer’s experiment, but she’s continued to expand and refine her ideas about the power of our mental constructs over the last thirty years. And Ellen Langer is no lightweight. She’s received a Guggenheim fellowship as well as three Distinguished Scientist awards for her work. You can find out more about her here: http://www.ellenlanger.com/about/ and her most recent book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, is available on Amazon.

I hear people say that age is just a number. Maybe it’s even simpler than that: age is just a thought.  So why not think yourself younger?

My novel, Yard Sale, is available at Amazon.