The influence of age-related cues on health and longevity

August 23rd, 2011

The Researchers: L. M. Hsu, J. Chung and E. J. Langer

Published In: Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol 5(6), pp. 632-648, 2010


Think young, look young.


Popular wisdom says that as you age, your body breaks down. But scratch that—you can think your way to youthful vigor.

This study showed that age-related cues—like your hair color—can affect your health and longevity by tricking your mind into thinking you’re younger than you are.

The researchers looked at 47 women, aged 27 to 83, before and after a hair salon appointment. Those who reported feeling younger than they had before the new ‘do, regardless of whether they got their hair dyed, actually appeared younger to independent raters (with their hair cropped out of the picture). What's more, their blood pressure decreased.

According to the researchers, previous studies may also support the conclusion that mindset can turn back the clock. Findings from three studies highlight the same age-cues effect: 

First, among those earning more than $25k per year, wearing a uniform can actually yield better health by eliminating a significant age marker—clothing. (Maybe Janelle Monae is onto something with her self-imposed “uniform.”)

Second, older mothers have a longer life expectancy than women who have kids earlier. All those diapers, toys and Mommy meet-ups, traditionally reserved for women in their 20s, may make older mothers feel younger.

Last, marrying a younger man can increase your odds of living longer. Among May-December couples, younger spouses die earlier, while older spouses live longer, presumably because a young spouse helps them relive their glory days. No wonder cougars are trending!

All in all, health is about way more than eating well and working out: your mind can play a big role in how you age. The younger you feel, the younger you will be.

Beauty connection

Next time you head to the beauty salon, opt for a cut and color that makes you feel youthful and gorgeous. Just thinking you look younger can make it come true. So indulge in a little pampering to turn back the clock. (That’s an upsell we’re willing to spring for!)

Read More by Ellen Langer: 
Meet the Mind: Ellen Langer
Mindfulness Can Make You Fitter
Mindful Marriages Are Happier
Mindfulness Improves Your Vision
Take Responsibility, Live Longer

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