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Self and personality in old and very old age: A sample case of resilience?

  • U. M. Staudinger (a1) and W. Fleeson (a1)

Abstract

Characteristics and processes linked to self and personality functioning are considered as illustrations of resilience in old and very old age. Two self-related processes—coping styles and personal life investment—are investigated as examples of internal resources that the aging person may bring to bear when dealing with the risks of old age. Beyond chronological age as a rough approximation of such risks, this article specifically explores the relationship between physical risks, self-related processes, and level of adaptation in a representative sample of 70- to 103-year-olds. The central hypothesis is that self-related processes may buffer age-related risks, and may to a certain degree preserve or avoid large drops in levels of adaptation. Working on a correlational level of analysis, results indicated that well into old age, the self is able to maintain a relatively high level of adaptation. Also, under conditions of a high degree of physical constraints: (a) both coping styles and personal life investment were associated with resilience; (b) beyond particular coping styles, a selective flexibility in coping was associated with resilience. The degree of physical constraints moderated (c) the adaptiveness of several coping styles and of personal life investment; and (d) extreme physical constraints appeared to limit the possibilities of resilience. The effect of physical constraints on level of adaptation in turn was moderated by age. Consistent with a life-span theory of development, results are interpreted as an example of evidence for the resilience of the aging self and its limits.

Copyright

Corresponding author

U. M. Staudinger, Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education, Lentzeallee 94, 14195 Berlin, Germany (E-mail: staudinger@MPIB-Berlin.MPG.DE).

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