Thursday, April 04, 2013

Impersonating your younger self makes your body physiologically younger - a rediscovered post.

For several years I've been trying to find or recall a MindBlog post or an article read, and couldn't come up with it. A blog reader sent an email recalling it, and I couldn't find it. FINALLY, on doing a string search in this blog (for 'mindfulness') I found it, an August 2010 post that I had given the misleading title of "The Psychology of Possibility." It referenced an article in Harvard Magazine on the work of Ellen Langer (1,2,3). Some of her early work is fascinating, and the post is worth repeating here:

An interesting article in the Harvard Magazine describes the life work of Ellen Langer, her demonstrations that our social self image (old versus young, for example) strongly patterns our actual vitality and physiology, her work on Mindfulness, unconscious processing, etc. I recommend that you read the article. Here are some clips from its beginning that hooked me (I actually did my own mini-repeat of the experiment described, a simple self-experiment of pretending that I had been transported back in time to 40 years ago, and convinced myself I was experiencing some of the effects described)...
In 1981, early in her career at Harvard, Ellen Langer and her colleagues piled two groups of men in their seventies and eighties into vans, drove them two hours north to a sprawling old monastery in New Hampshire, and dropped them off 22 years earlier, in 1959. The group who went first stayed for one week and were asked to pretend they were young men, once again living in the 1950s. The second group, who arrived the week afterward, were told to stay in the present and simply reminisce about that era. Both groups were surrounded by mid-century mementos—1950s issues of Life magazine and the Saturday Evening Post, a black-and-white television, a vintage radio—and they discussed the events of the time: the launch of the first U.S. satellite, Castro’s victory ride into Havana, Nikita Khrushchev and the need for bomb shelters.

...Before and after the experiment, both groups of men took a battery of cognitive and physical tests, and after just one week, there were dramatic positive changes across the board. Both groups were stronger and more flexible. Height, weight, gait, posture, hearing, vision—even their performance on intelligence tests had improved. Their joints were more flexible, their shoulders wider, their fingers not only more agile, but longer and less gnarled by arthritis. But the men who had acted as if they were actually back in 1959 showed significantly more improvement. Those who had impersonated younger men seemed to have bodies that actually were younger.


  1. It's amazing that these types of studies are taking place. It's so fascinating what the scientific community is coming up with in regards to anti- aging. Mind over matter seems to resonate within this experiment. While there are endless medical developments that slow the process of aging, it seems the real power could be in our thought process. Thanks for the interesting information.

  2. Anonymous6:48 PM

    I heard Ellen Langer speak last summer. The more I listened the more skeptical I became. She described her experiments in such a way that suggested a lack of experimental rigor.

  3. Langer is a controversial figure, and lack of experimental rigor has been a critique.