ARCHIVE - Resources and psychological mechanisms of adaptation, positive development and successful aging


Throughout the lifespan, individuals attempt to actively influence their development and to achieve positive developmental outcomes such as high functioning or quality of life. This effort is challenged when they are confronted with critical life events, illness and age-related losses. Our research aims at identifying psychological mechanisms that enable individuals to cope with and overcome these difficulties. In particular, we investigate the role of individual’s basic (a) resources (e.g., education, cognition, health, social network), which set the stage for development, as well as “psychological strengths”; (b) strategies that are used to solve problems or reach goals (e.g., coping and life-management strategies); and (c) beliefs that provide the motivation necessary to engage in effortful and persistent action (e.g., control beliefs and attitudes towards life, disease, and aging). Our studies demonstrates that resources and psychological strengths play an important role for general (e.g., well-being, positive adaptation to loss) and specific (e.g., memory functioning) developmental outcomes, and that taking into account the interrelations among these constructs explains more about positive development than when considered alone.

Of particular interest is very old age, presenting a “testing-the-limits” situation for the human capacity of adaptation. More specifically, reaching very old age usually is accompanied by multiple losses, including health issues, loss of loved ones, and increasing restrictions in activities that give meaning to life. Despite these losses and limitations, very old individuals seem to be rather happy and satisfied with their lives. Which mechanisms contribute to this “well-being paradox” is unknown. One potential group of factors are psychological strengths (e.g., self-efficacy, optimistic outlook, meaning in life) which we study in the context of our centenarian studies. Ongoing research also investigates adaptation to divorce and bereavement within a LIVES study on partner loss in the second half of the life-span (with Profs. Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello and Hans-Joerg Znoj, University of Berne). In this context, team member Dr. Claudia Meystre investigates the role of professional psychological support as a means of overcoming partner loss.