Wednesday, May 26, 2010

(Not So) Grumpy Old Men

So, I have started reading a new book, and it couldn't be more appropriate for this blog.  The book is called "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology" and tackles many of the same issues I have been blogging about here, like: whether or not we only use ten percent of our brains (we don't, we use all of it), and whether or not lie detectors work (they don't, or at least not well enough to be truly reliable).  Of course, there are numerous other myths that I haven't gotten to, or didn't know about myself.  For example, it is a pretty common conception that old people are grumpy, crotchety, miserly, and easily upset.  Just look at the films "Grumpy Old Men", "Up", and "Gran Torino".  Or picture a person who might yell: "Hey, you kids get off my lawn!"  Does the person in your mental image have gray or white hair?  Well, as "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology" points out:
    "One team of investigators surveyed adults between the ages of 21 and 40 or over the age of 60 about their happiness and (their perception of) the happiness of the average person at their current age, (at) age 30, and at age 70.  The young adults predicted that people in general would be less happy as they aged.  Yet the older adults were actually happier at their current age than were younger respondents (Lacy, Smith, & Ubel, 2006)
     Population-based surveys reveal that rates of depression are actually highest in individuals aged 25-45 (Ingram, Scott, & Siegle, 1999), and that the happiest group of people is men aged 65 and older (Martin, 2006).  Happiness increases with age through the late 60s and perhaps 70s (Mroczek & Kolarz, 1998; Nass,  Brave, & Takayama, 2006).  In one study of 28,000 Americans, a third of 88 year-olds reported they were "very happy", and the happiest people surveyed were the oldest.  The odds of being happy increased 5% with every decade of life (Yang, 2008)."
Of course, general happiness may not account for instances of irritability, but it does seem likely that isolated encounters, and small numbers of individuals (as well as Hollywood caricatures) are what's really driving this stereotype.  As the data suggest, most elderly people don't see themselves as "grumpy" but rather, they are quite content... more so than the rest of us young whippersnappers, anyway.

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