An Experiment in Growing Younger in “Old?” Age

by bryan maynard

Ellen Langer was the first female psychologist to be tenured at Harvard. She conducted a really great experiment that you can read about it in her book: Counterclockwise: the Power of Possiblity. Basically, she took a bunch of 80 year old guys from a nursing home who were suffering from severe depression. She moved them out of that setting and placed them in a make-shift setting that resembled the era of the 1940’s, a familiar environment and a time in life when these men were vital and active and intentional.

In this ‘return to a time and setting’ when life was better, she physically got these men out of bed and drug them out onto the street and walked them down the street and looked in the windows and back to their rooms. Day after day she continued this until the men started coming out onto the street on their own. From this point, she added more activities that were familiar to their era, and she added activities that aimed at helping others.

What do you think happened?

These men who had been living in nursing homes and who had been coddled and functionally made to believe that they could not (and should not) do the things they had once done for themselves and others, came back to life. They grew healthier in mind and body and developed new relationships. Intangible things like purpose and curiosity and learning bore fruit, again.