Late Adulthood : emotional & social development

I. Erikson's theory

the final psychological conflict for Erikson was ego integrity vs. despair: coming to term with your life

Ego Integrity described a state of feeling whole and accepting of one's achievements and choices, adaptation to both the victories and the failures incident to any human life

An ability to view one's life in the broad context off all humanity contributes to the contentment that accompanies integrity

Despair follows from a perception of having made many wrong choices and having too little time to pursue different courses

Despair renders difficult the acceptance that death is near and the individual may be overwhelmed with bitterness


II. other contributors to our theories of adult psychosocial development

Peck's tasks of ego integrity

Peck believed that Erikson's ego integrity involved three distinct tasks:

1. ego differentiation: finding other sources of self-worth for those who had invested heavily in careers/children

2. body transcendence: emphasizing the compensating rewards of cognitive/emotional/social adaptive skills to surmount physical limitations

3. ego transcendence: facing the reality of death constructively through efforts to make life more secure, meaningful, and rewarding for younger generations

Joan Erikson's Gerotranscendence

Joan Erikson, widow of Eric Erikson, advanced the theories of her late husband by suggesting that adult development could continue beyond ego integrity, to:

gerotranscendence: a cosmic and transcendent perspective directed beyond the self, associated with inner calm and contentment

Labouvie-Vief's emotional expertise

Labouvie-Vief suggested that elders could improve through affect optimization: the ability to maximize positive emotions and dampen negative emotions, enhancing resilience

Many older adults do show a sense of optimism

Approximately a third of older adults show continued/enhanced capacity to deal with cognitive-emotional complexity, often from using increased perspective taking (recognizing objective vs interpretative aspects of emotionally charged situations) and emotional regulation strategies (increased distress tolerance, internal management of negative affect)

reminiscence: telling stories from the past and reporting associated thoughts and feelings

reflecting on the past can play a positive role in the adjustment of elders

life review is a form of reminiscence, often with a goal of greater self-understanding

some authors suggest that the growth in life expectancy has lead to a new phase of adult life, "the Third Age", spanning the years from 65 to 79 and associated with new goal setting and higher life satisfaction

III. Stability and change in self-concept and personality

self-concept: the accumulation of a lifetime of experience and self-knowledge tends to lead to a more secure and complex sense of self

positive, multifaceted self-definitions are associated with positive well-being

most elders continue to move toward self-defined goals


elders tend to increase in agreeableness and acceptance of change

extraversion and openness to experience tend to slightly decline

many elders show a general cheerfulness


older adults may develop a more mature sense of spirituality

both organized and informal religious participation is associated with longer survival


IV. Social theories of aging

Disengagement theory: mutual withdrawal between elders and society takes place in anticipation of death

Activity theory suggests that it is barriers to engagement, not a lack of desire, that leads to disengagement

Continuity theory suggests that participation in familiar activities with familiar people helps preserve physical and cognitive functioning and affirm identity

Sara Gruen (2007) Water For Elephants.