
The final psychological conflict of Erikson’s theory is ego
integrity vs. despair
› Involves coming to terms with one’s life

Ego integrity
› Adults who arrive at a sense of integrity feel whole and satisfied
with their achievements, they have adapted to life’s triumphs
and disappointments
› The capacity to view one’s life in the larger context of all
humanity contributes to the contentment that accompanies
integrity

Despair
› Despair occurs when elders feel they have made many wrong
decisions, yet time is too short to find an alternative
› The despairing person finds it hard to accept that death is near
and is overwhelmed with bitterness, defeat, and hopelessness
› According to Erikson, these attitudes are often expressed as
anger and contempt for others, which disguise contempt for
oneself

As with Erikson’s stages of early and
middle adulthood, other theorists have
clarified and refined his vision of late
adulthood
› Specifying the tasks and the thought
processes that contribute to a sense of ego
integrity

All agree that optimal development
involves greater integration and
deepening of the personality

According to Robert Peck, attaining ego integrity involves 3
distinct tasks
Ego differentiation: for those who invested heavily in their careers, finding
other ways to self-worth – through family, friendship, and community life
› Body transcendence: overcoming physical limitations by emphasizing the
compensating rewards of cognitive, emotional, and social powers
› Ego transcendence: as contemporaries die, facing the reality of death
constructively through efforts to make life more secure, meaningful, and
gratifying for younger generations
›
Research suggests that body transcendence (focusing on
psychological strengths) and ego transcendence (orienting
toward a larger, more distant future) increase
 Joan Erikson, suggested that these attainments actually
represent development beyond ego integrity (which requires
satisfaction with one’s past) to an additional psychosocial stage

›
Gerotranscendence – a cosmic and transcendent perspective directed
forward and outward, beyond the self
 Seen in heightened inner calm and contentment

Elders improve in affect optimization – the ability to maximize
positive emotions and dampen negative emotions
›
Which contributes to their remarkable resilience
›
They readily use emotion-centered coping strategies (controlling distress
internally) in negatively charged situations
Most older adults sustain a sense of optimism and good
psychological well-being
 About 30%-40% of elders also retain a considerable capacity for
cognitive-emotional complexity – a combination related to
especially effective emotional self-regulation
 Older adults’ emotional perceptiveness helps them separate
interpretations from objective aspects of situations


In sum, a significant late-life psychosocial attainment is
becoming expert at reflecting on one’s own feelings and
regulating negative affect
Reminiscence – telling stories about people and events from
their past and reporting associated thoughts and feelings
 Current theory and research indicate that reflecting on the past
can be positive and adaptive
 Life review – a form of reminiscence in which a person calls up
past experiences, with the goal of achieving greater selfunderstanding
 Reminiscence often occurs during times of life transition, such as
retirement or widowhood



›
Helps elders sustain a sense of personal continuity
›
Today, many elders in industrialized nations are largely present- and
future-oriented, rather than focusing on the past and wishing to be
young again
But, many elders who are high in self-acceptance and life
satisfaction spend little time evaluating their pasts
Experts believe a new phase of late adulthood has evolved
›
The third age – spans ages 65-79, is a time of new goal setting, personal
fulfillment, and high life satisfaction
Longitudinal research reveals continuing
stability of the “big five” personality traits
from mid- to late-life
 Yet the ingredients of ego integrity –
wholeness, contentment, and image of
the self as part of a larger world order –
are reflected in several significant latelife changes in both self-concept and
personality




Elders have accumulated a lifetime of selfknowledge, leading to more secure and complex
conceptions of themselves
Research indicates that the autobiographical selves
of 65-85 year olds emphasize coherence and
consistency
Positive, multifaceted self-definitions are associated
with psychological well-being
› Hobbies, interests, social participation, family, health, and
personality traits

Most elders continue to mention – and actively
pursue – some hoped-for selves in the areas of
physical health, personal characteristics,
relationships, and social responsibility




Open-ended interviews and personality tests
reveal that elders gain in agreeableness and
show greater acceptance of change
At the same time, elders show modest agerelated dips in extraversion and openness to
experience
Most older adults are resilient – especially if
they were earlier in life
Older adults’ general cheerfulness strengthens
their physiological resistance to stress, enabling
them to conserve physical and mental
resources needed for effective coping


Older adults may develop a more mature sense of
spirituality
Older adults attach great value to religious beliefs
and behaviors
› 72% of Americans age 65 and older say that religion is very
important in their lives
› At least in the U.S., elders tend to become more religious
with age



Involvement in both organized and informal religious
activities is especially high among low-SES ethnic
minority elders
Involvement in both organized and informal religious
activities is higher among women
Both organized and informal religious participation is
associated with longer survival

Most adults adapt well to old age
› Yet some feel dependent, incompetent, and
worthless
Personal and situational factors often
combine to affect psychological wellbeing
 Identifying these contextual influences is
vital for designing interventions that
foster positive adjustment


2 predictable, complementary behavior patterns can be
seen in observations of people interacting with older
adults
› The dependency-support script – dependent behaviors are
attended to immediately
› The independence-ignore script – independent behaviors are
mostly ignored
Both scripts reinforce dependent behavior at the expense
of independent behavior
 Research shows that negative reactions to caregiving can
result in persisting depression

› When elders experience difficulty with daily activities, social
contact is linked to a less positive everyday existence
› This suggests that social interaction while assisting elders with
physical care, household chores, and errands is often not
rewarding but demeaning and unpleasant

Whether assistance from others undermines wellbeing is a function of many factors
› Including the caregiver-elder relationship and the social
context in which helping occurs

A stereotype of the elderly as passive and
incompetent appears to be responsible for caregiver
responses that promote excessive dependency in old
age
› Old people seem to be aware that people think they are
feeble… and attribute their dependency to
overresponsive social partners

Dependency in old age can be adaptive if it permits
older people to conserve their strength by investing it
in highly valued activities
› Ex. Mowing the lawn for grandpa so he isn’t too tired to go
play golf
Physical health is a powerful predictor of psychological
well-being
 Physical declines and chronic disease can lead to a sense
of loss of personal control

› Which is a major factor in mental health

More than actual physical limitations, perceived negative
physical health predicts depressive symptoms
› So how bad their health actually is, doesn’t matter as much as
how bad they think their health is

The relation between physical and mental health can
become a vicious cycle
› With each intensifying the other, as one goes down so does the
other

Elders generally do not get the mental health care they
need-even in nursing homes, where mental health
problems are widespread

Negative life changes may evoke less stress
and depression for older people than
younger adults
› Because elders have learned to cope with hard
times and to accept loss

However, when negative changes pile up,
they test the coping skills of older adults
› In very old age, such changes are greater for
women than for men
› Older women are more likely to be widowed,
have lower income, and suffer from more illness

In late adulthood, social support continues to reduce stress,
thereby promoting physical health and psychological well-being
›
However, because many older adults place a high value on
independence, they do not want a great deal of support from people
close to them unless they can reciprocate
Formal support as a complement to informal assistance spare
elders from feeling overly dependent in their close relationships
 Ethnic minority elders do not readily accept formal assistance
but are more willing to do so when helpers are connected to a
familiar neighborhood organization, especially church
 For social support to promote well-being, elders need to assume
personal control of it
 Besides tangible assistance, elders benefit from social support
that offers affection, affirmation of their self-worth, and sense of
belonging

Extraverts continue to interact with a wider
range of people than to introverts and
people with poor social skills in old age
 Nevertheless, studies reveal that size of
social networks and, therefore, amount of
social interaction decline for virtually
everyone
 This finding presents a curious paradox:

› If social interaction and social support are
essential for mental health, how is it possible for
elders to interact less yet be generally satisfied
with life and less depressed than younger adults
Social theories of aging offer explanations
for changes in elders social activity
 Two older perspectives, disengagement
theory and activity theory interpret declines
in social interaction in opposite ways
 More recent approaches, continuity theory
and socioemotional selectivity theory,
account for a wider range of feelings



According to disengagement theory, mutual
withdrawal between elders and society takes place
in anticipation of death
Older people decrease their activity levels and
interact less frequently
› Becoming more preoccupied with their inner lives

At the same time, society frees elders from
employment and family responsibilities
› The result is viewed as beneficial for both sides
 Elders are granted a life of tranquility and once they
disengage, their deaths are less disruptive to society

However, not everyone disengages, and even when
old people disengage, it may not be their preference
› Rather it may be due to a failure of the social world to
provide opportunities for engagement

Activity theory states that social barriers to engagement,
not the desires of elders, cause declining rates of
interaction
› When older people lose certain roles (retirement or death of a
spouse), they try to find others in an effort to stay about as active
and busy as they were in middle age
In this view, elders’ life satisfaction depends on conditions
that permit them to remain engaged in roles and
relationships
 Problems with this theory

› Activity theory fails to acknowledge any psychological change
in old age
 Many studies show that merely offering elders opportunities for
social contact does not lead to greater social activity
› When health status is controlled, elders who have larger social
networks and engage in more activities are not necessarily
happier
 Apparently, quality over quantity applies here
According to continuity theory, most aging
adults strive to maintain a personal system –
an identity and a set of personality
dispositions, skills, and roles – that promotes
life satisfaction by ensuring consistency
between their past and anticipated future
 Participation in familiar activities with
familiar people helps preserve physical and
cognitive functioning and affirms identity


Socioemotional selectivity theory asserts that social
interaction does not decline suddenly in late age
› Rather, it extends lifelong selection processes

Physical and psychological aspects of aging lead to
changes in the functions of social interaction
› Elders emphasize the emotion-regulating function of
interaction (approaching those who evoke positive
feelings and avoiding those who evoke negative feelings)
› And deemphasize other functions, such as information
gathering (being friends with someone because they offer
information you don’t have)

In collectivist cultures, where people value an
interdependent self, social relationships tend to not
become restricted
The physical and social contexts in which
elders live affect their social experiences
and, consequently, their development
and adjustment
 Communities, neighborhoods, and
housing arrangements vary in the extent
to which they enable aging residents to
satisfy their social needs



Suburban elders have higher incomes and
report better health than inner-city elders do
Inner-city elders are better off in terms of
transportation and proximity to social services
› And are not as disadvantaged in health, income,
and availability of services as those who live in small
towns and rural areas

Small-town and rural elderly compensate for
distance from family and social services by
interacting more with neighbors and friends

Media attention has led to a widely held belief
that crime against the elderly is common
› Although older adults are less often targets of crime
than other age groups
 However, I will say that this statistic came out before the
big phone scam of last year…

Fear of crime restricts activities and undermines
morale among frail elders living alone and in
inner-city areas
› Ex. My grandparents are still trying to find a way to
come visit me that doesn’t involve driving within 20
miles of Detroit or getting on an airplane…
Elders housing preferences reflect a strong desire for aging
in place – remaining in a familiar setting where they have
control over their everyday life
 Ordinary homes

› For the majority of elders, who are not physically impaired,
staying in their own homes affords the greatest possible personal
control
› More elders in Western countries live on their own today than
ever before, as a result of improved health and economic wellbeing
› Older adults of Southern, Central, and Eastern European
descent, as well as African Americans, Asian Americans,
Hispanics, and Native Americans, more often live with extended
families
› During the past half-century, the number of unmarried, divorced,
and widowed American elders living alone has risen dramatically
 Over 40% of them are poverty stricken

Residential Communities
› Housing developments for the aged differ from ordinary homes in
that they have been modified to suit elders’ capacities
› For elders who need more help with everyday tasks, assisted
living arrangements are available
 Congregate housing – an increasingly popular long-term care
option – provides a variety of support services, including meals in
a common dining room, along with watchful oversight of residents
with physical and mental disabilities
 Life-care communities offer a range of options, from independent
or congregate housing to full nursing home care, guaranteeing
that elders’ changing needs will be met in one place as they age
› Studies of diverse residential communities for the aged reveal
that they can have positive effects on physical and mental
health
› No U.S. federal regulations govern assisted-living facilities
 But physical designs and support services that enable aging in
place are vital for elders’ well-being

Nursing Homes
› The 5% of Americans age 65 and older who live
in nursing homes experience the most extreme
restriction of autonomy and social integration
› Potential social partners are abundant in nursing
homes, but interaction is low
› More homelike nursing homes could do much to
increase residents’ sense of security and control
 The new Green House model offers aging-in-place
features that ensure late-life well-being, such as
physical and emotional comfort and meaningful
relationships

The social convoy is an influential model of changes in our
social networks as we move through life
› Ships in the inner circle represent people’s closest relationships
(spouse, best friend, parent, child, etc.)
› Those less close but still important travel on the outside
› With age, ships exchange places in the convoy, and some drift
off while others join the procession
› As long as the convoy continues to exist, you adapt positively
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Social and Emotional Development in Late