The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Langer’

Revisiting Arden House and the Situation of Aging

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 20, 2010

Situationist PodcastFor those of you who would like to do some interesting listening, here is an excellent podcast featuring Situationist friend Ellen Langer.

From the BBC MindChangers Series:

Arden House: (30 minutes)

Claudia Hammond presents a series looking at the development of the science of psychology during the 20th century.

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She re-visits Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin’s 1976 study, conducted in a New England nursing home, Arden House.

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When the two psychologists set up the experiment so that residents on two floors of the 360-bed home for the elderly would experience some changes in their everyday life, they had no idea that they were introducing factors which could prolong life.

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While residents on both floors were given plants and film shows, only those on the fourth floor had the opportunity to control these events: choosing the plant and looking after it themselves, and choosing which night of the week to view the film.

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Eighteen months later, when Langer and Rodin returned to the home, they were astonished to discover that twice as many of the elderly residents in this ‘choices’ group were alive, compared with the control group on the second floor, who had been given plants that the staff tended, and were told which was their film night. It appeared that taking control made you live longer.

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These findings fit in well with the work on learned helplessness in dogs which Martin Seligman had done in the late 1960s, and on Langer and Rodin’s own studies on the perception of control.

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Claudia Hammond meets Ellen Langer, now Professor of Psychology at Harvard, and hears about Arden House and the work she has gone on to do on what she calls ‘mindfulness’. She visits Arden House, which is still a nursing home, and is shown around by current administrator Joanne Scafati.

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For a ssmple of relate Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Time and Mind,” The Situation of Health and Aging,” “Time and the Situation of Marshmallows,” and “January Fools’ Day.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Life, Podcasts, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Time and Mind

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 23, 2009

ClockSituationist friend, Ellen Langer takes a mindful view of our mental powers in her fascinating book, “Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility.”  Here are some excerpts from Melora North’s review in Wicked Local.

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[Ellen Langer]  has taken on an awesome challenge to introduce readers of all ages to new concepts that may indeed change their lives and turn back time.

“Way back when we did research on elderly people,” she says. “We wanted to find out how a change in mind can change people. If you put the mind in a different place the results are dramatic, the mind and body come back together. Where you put the mind, you put the body.”

One of the studies Langer conducted with five of her grad students was to assemble a group of elderly, reasonably healthy men who would live for one week in a world where the clock was turned back 20 years to 1959. They lived in an environment where the television only played programs from that time, the radio shouting out tunes and news broadcasts from the same era. Photographs, newspapers and magazines, political discussions, everything was a replica of 1959 in their controlled world. The men were directed to let themselves “be just who you were in 1959. We have good reason to believe that if you are successful at this, you will also feel as well as you did in 1959,” says Langer in her book.

Langer and her team were right; the mind does indeed have wondrous control over the body. During the week the men became more independent, motivated and engaging. At the conclusion of the week each man had gained an average of three pounds, their memories and hearing had improved and the strength of their grips increased — the participants actually got “younger.”

“This book is very important,” says Langer. “Especially with all the baby boomers. The mindsets we form when we’re younger lock us into our health when we get older. If you believe you can’t control your life and health then you can’t.”

Sharing her insights, research and experience, Langer introduces the reader to ideas that can trip up the mind, thus enabling it to actually heal the body. For instance, she conducted eye tests in which she reversed the eye chart. The results were astounding, patients could actually see better because they had more optimistic expectations.

Another example is the power of words. A simple concept, she found that those with cancer who consider themselves cured enjoy healthier lives while those who say they are in remission have higher depression scores.

For those of you out there struggling with your weight, there is good news, and again, it is all about words. One of Langer’s studies took on a group of hotel chambermaids who have highly physical jobs. Vacuuming, lugging garbage, all these exercises burn calories and test stamina. The maids had a mindset that they were just doing their jobs, not getting exercise. Ha! Once they were informed their work was exercise, the brain set in to shape a different mental image and the women actually began to lose weight, an added benefit being the lowering of their blood pressure.

In this book Langer shares her research on the power of placebos and whether patients actually need traditional medications. She tells how best to work with your doctor explaining that we are in charge of our own vessel and cannot assume that our annual check-ups and yearly blood work will tell the whole story of our physical being.

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To read the entire review, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Health and Aging,” “Time and the Situation of Marshmallows,” and “January Fools’ Day.”

Posted in Book, Life, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Health and Aging

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 1, 2009

Ellen Langer three-nancysSituationist friend Ellen Langer‘s latest book, “Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility,”  is out, and Wray Herbert recently wrote a terrific review of it for Newsweek, which we have digested below.

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Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer [conducted] a study . . . with a group of elderly men some years ago, retrofitting an isolated old New England hotel so that every visible sign said it was 20 years earlier. The men—in their late 70s and early 80s—were told not to reminisce about the past, but to actually act as if they had traveled back in time. The idea was to see if changing the men’s mindset about their own age might lead to actual changes in health and fitness.

Langer’s findings were stunning: After just one week, the men in the experimental group (compared with controls of the same age) had more joint flexibility, increased dexterity and less arthritis in their hands. Their mental acuity had risen measurably, and they had improved gait and posture. Outsiders who were shown the men’s photographs judged them to be significantly younger than the controls. In other words, the aging process had in some measure been reversed.

Langer and her Harvard colleagues have been running similarly inventive experiments for decades, and the accumulated weight of the evidence is convincing. Her theory, argued in her new book, “Counterclockwise,” is that we are all victims of our own stereotypes about aging and health. We mindlessly accept negative cultural cues about disease and old age, and these cues shape our self-concepts and our behavior. If we can shake loose from the negative clichés that dominate our thinking about health, we can “mindfully” open ourselves to possibilities for more productive lives even into old age.

Consider another of Langer’s mindfulness studies, this one using an ordinary optometrist’s eye chart. That’s the chart with the huge E on top, and descending lines of smaller and smaller letters that eventually become unreadable. Langer and her colleagues wondered: what if we reversed it? The regular chart creates the expectation that at some point you will be unable to read. Would turning the chart upside down reverse that expectation, so that people would expect the letters to become readable? That’s exactly what they found. The subjects still couldn’t read the tiniest letters, but when they were expecting the letters to get more legible, they were able to read smaller letters than they could have normally. Their expectation—their mindset—improved their actual vision . . . .

Most people try to dress appropriately for their age, so clothing in effect becomes a cue for ingrained attitudes about age. But what if this cue disappeared? Langer decided to study people who routinely wear uniforms as part of their work life, and compare them with people who dress in street clothes. She found that people who wear uniforms missed fewer days owing to illness or injury, had fewer doctors’ visits and hospitalizations, and had fewer chronic diseases—even though they all had the same socioeconomic status. That’s because they were not constantly reminded of their own aging by their fashion choices. The health differences were even more exaggerated when Langer looked at affluent people: presumably the means to buy even more clothes provides a steady stream of new aging cues, which wealthy people internalize as unhealthy attitudes and expectations.

We are surrounded every day by subtle signals that aging is an undesirable period of decline. These signals make it difficult to age gracefully. Similar signals also lock all of us—regardless of age—into pigeonholes for disease. We are too quick to accept diagnostic categories like cancer and depression, and let them define us.  . . .  [W]ith a little mindfulness, we can try to embrace uncertainty and understand that the way we feel today may or may not connect to the way we will feel tomorrow.

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To read the entire Wray article, click here.  To read more about or purchase Professor Langer’s new book, click here.  The image above, titled “Three Nancy’s,” is from a collection of Ellen Langer’s artwork on Scouting for Art.  To watch a video interview of Ellen Langer about her new book, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Giving Is Receiving,” and “January Fools’ Day.”

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

 
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