The effects of choice and enhanced personal responsibility for the aged: A field experiment in an institutional setting

August 23rd, 2011

The Researchers: E. Langer and J. Rodin

Published In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 34(2), pp. 191-198, 1976


Take responsibility, live longer.


Falling apart in old age is no forgone conclusion: it may be a result of mind frame. This study tested how choice and responsibility affect nursing home residents’ health.

In the study, the first group of nursing home patients was encouraged to take responsibility in their day-to-day lives, making their own decisions about caring for a plant or seeing a movie.

The second group was told that it was the staff’s responsibility to make the residents more comfortable. Rather than allowing the residents to make choices for themselves, the staff assigned each resident a plant to care for and a movie to watch.

Three weeks later, the members of the first group—the ones given personal responsibility—were happier, more active, and more alert than the members of the second group. They were also engaged in more interpersonal activity, like visiting other patients and talking to staff.

A year and a half later, twice as many residents in the first group were still alive.

If a plant and a movie night—seeming trivialities—can affect lifespan, imagine what a sustained shift in mindset could do. Taking charge of decisions in your life is more than empowering: it’s life-extending.

Beauty connection

If you’re nearing that “third chapter” of life, remember that making even the smallest of choices—how to decorate your room, what to eat for dinner, or which book to read next—can have incredibly positive effects on your outlook and health. Don’t let others orchestrate your life--take responsibility for aging beautifully! And if you’re caring for an elderly relative, ask for her vote as much as possible.

Read More by Ellen Langer:
Meet the Mind: Ellen Langer
Mindfulness Improves Your Vision
Mindful Marriages Are Happier
Think Young, Look Young
Mindfulness Can Make You Fitter

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