Eric L. Stocks and David A. Lishner
The term empathy has been used as a label for a broad range of phenomena, including feeling what another person is feeling, understanding another person’s point of view, and imagining oneself in another person’s situation. However, perhaps the most widely researched phenomenon that goes by this label involves an other-oriented emotional state that is congruent with the perceived welfare of another person. The feelings associated with empathy include sympathy, tenderness, and warmth toward the other person. Other variations of empathic emotions have been investigated too, including empathic joy, empathic embarrassment, and empathic anger. The term altruism has also been used as a label for a broad range of phenomena, including any type of helping behavior, personality traits associated with helpful persons, and biological influences that spur protection of genetically related others. However, a particularly fruitful research tradition has focused on altruism as a motivational state with the ultimate goal of protecting or promoting the welfare of a valued other. For example, the empathy–altruism hypothesis claims that empathy (construed as an other-oriented emotional state) evokes altruism (construed as a motivational state). Empathy and altruism, regardless of how they are construed, have important consequences for understanding human behavior in general, and for understanding social relationships and well-being in particular.
Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson was the first professional to describe and use the concept of ego identity in his writings on what constitutes healthy personality development for every individual over the course of the life span. Basic to Erikson’s view, as well as those of many later identity writers, is the understanding that identity enables one to move with purpose and direction in life, and with a sense of inner sameness and continuity over time and place. Erikson considered identity to be psychosocial in nature, formed by the intersection of individual biological and psychological capacities in combination with the opportunities and supports offered by one’s social context. Identity normally becomes a central issue of concern during adolescence, when decisions about future vocational, ideological, and relational issues need to be addressed; however, these key identity concerns often demand further reflection and revision during different phases of adult life as well. Identity, thus, is not something that one resolves once and for all at the end of adolescence, but rather identity may continue to evolve and change over the course of adult life too.
Following Erikson’s initial writings, subsequent theorists have laid different emphases on the role of the individual and the role of society in the identity formation process. One very popular elaboration of Erikson’s own writings on identity that retains a psychosocial focus is the identity status model of James Marcia. While Erikson had described one’s identity resolution as lying somewhere on a continuum between identity achievement and role confusion (and optimally located nearer the achievement end of the spectrum), Marcia defined four very different means by which one may approach identity-defining decisions: identity achievement (commitment following exploration), moratorium (exploration in process), foreclosure (commitment without exploration), and diffusion (no commitment with little or no exploration). These four approaches (or identity statuses) have, over many decades, been the focus of over 1,000 theoretical and research studies that have examined identity status antecedents, behavioral consequences, associated personality characteristics, patterns of interpersonal relations, and developmental forms of movement over time. A further field of study has focused on the implications for intervention that each identity status holds. Current research seeks both to refine the identity statuses and explore their dimensions further through narrative analysis.
Sarah E. Hampson
Although the belief that personality is linked to health goes back at least to Greek and Roman times, the scientific study of these links began in earnest only during the last century. The field of psychosomatic medicine, which grew out of psychoanalysis, accepted that the body and the mind were closely connected. By the end of the 20th century, the widespread adoption of the five-factor model of personality and the availability of reliable and valid measures of personality traits transformed the study of personality and health. Of the five broad domains of personality (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and intellect/openness), the most consistent findings in relation to health have been obtained for conscientiousness (i.e., hard-working, reliable, self-controlled). People who are more conscientious have better health and live longer lives than those who are less conscientious. These advantages are partly explained by the better health behaviors, good social relationships, and less stress that tend to characterize those who are more conscientious. The causal relation between personality and health may run in both directions; that is, personality influences health, and health influences personality. In addition to disease diagnoses and longevity, changes on biomarkers such as inflammation, cortisol activity, and cellular aging are increasingly used to chart health in relation to personality traits and to test explanatory models. Recognizing that both personality and health change over the life course has promoted longitudinal studies and a life-span approach to the study of personality and health.
Katy W. Martin-Fernandez and Yossef S. Ben-Porath
Attempts at informal personality assessment can be traced back to our distant ancestors. As the field of Clinical Psychology emerged and developed over time, efforts were made to create reliable and valid measures of personality and psychopathology that could be used in a variety of contexts. There are many assessment instruments available for clinicians to use, with most utilizing either a projective or self-report format. Individual assessment instruments have specific administration, scoring, and interpretive guidelines to aid clinicians in making accurate decisions based on a test taker’s answers. These measures are continuously adapted to reflect the current conceptualization of personality and psychopathology and the latest technology. Additionally, measures are adapted and validated to be used in a variety of settings, with a variety of populations. Personality assessment continues to be a dynamic process that can be utilized to accurately and informatively represent the test taker and aid in clinical decision making and planning.
Ryan E. Rhodes and Patrick Boudreau
The physical, psychological, and economic benefits of regular moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity are well substantiated. Unfortunately, few people in developed countries engage in enough physical activity to reap these benefits. Thus, a strong theoretical understanding of what factors are associated with physical activity is warranted in order to create effective and targeted interventions. Social/ecological approaches to understanding physical activity demonstrate the breadth of correlates that encompass intra-individual, inter-individual, environmental, and policy-related variables in physical activity performance. One longstanding intrapersonal correlate of interest is the relationship between personality traits—enduring individual-level differences in tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions—and physical activity.
Personality trait theories are broad in focus and differ in terms of proposed etiology, yet much of the recent research in physical activity has been with super traits in the five-factor model: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Meta-analytic reviews suggest that conscientiousness and extraversion are positively associated with physical activity with some mixed evidence for a small negative relationship with neuroticism. The effect appears to be most pronounced with vigorous physical activities and less so with lower-intensity lifestyle activities and shows mixed evidence for whether proximal social cognitive variables (intention, self-efficacy) can mediate this relationship. More specific sub-traits show that facets of extraversion (excitement-seeking, activity) or conscientiousness (self-discipline, industriousness/ambition) have larger and more specific associations with particular types of physical activity or moderate key processes like the intention-behavior gap. Furthermore, personality appears to be linked to higher-intensity and adventure activities more than lower-intensity leisure physical activities. Contemporary longitudinal assessments of the bi-directionality of personality and physical activity have begun to advance our understanding of interconnectedness. Interventions that target personality traits to improve physical activity have been relatively understudied but hold some promise when used in tandem with larger theoretical approaches and behavioral change strategies.
Schema therapy has evolved since the late 1980s as an efficacious and increasingly widely used psychotherapeutic treatment for personality disorders and many other complex disorders that correlate with underlying maladaptive schemas. Only recently, attention among clinical geropsychologists has been growing for the application of schema therapy in older adults. Schema therapy is very feasible for both therapists and older patients. Schema therapy is an integrative psychotherapy, which draws on the cognitive-behavioral, attachment, psychodynamic, and emotion-focused traditions. In this treatment model, early maladaptive schemas are considered core elements of persistent and pervasive psychopathology, including personality disorders. The goal of treatment is to decrease the impact of maladaptive schemas and to replace negative coping responses and maladaptive schema modes with more healthy alternatives so that patients succeed in getting their core emotional needs met. The emerging attention for schema therapy in older adults is in line with the increased attention for personality disorders in later life, and also with the maturing field of psychotherapy for older adults. The first scientific evidence for the feasibility and the effectiveness of schema therapy has recently been shown. Despite these developments, much work is still to be done. The question is whether schema theory, which was developed for adults in young and middle adulthood, equally applies to those in later life. Although the first tests of effectiveness of schema therapy in older adults are encouraging, age-specific adaptations of existing therapy protocols, both for individual and group schema therapy, are wanted. Furthermore, the research that has been conducted so far has focused on the young-old. Especially for the growing and highly complex group of oldest-old patients, the development of feasible and effective schema-based interventions is needed. Integrating age-specific moderators for change, such as wisdom enhancement, attitudes to aging, and integrating the action of positive schemas, deserves recommendation.
Cornelia Wrzus and Jenny Wagner
Over the entire life span, social relationships are essential ingredients of human life. Social relationships describe regular interactions with other people over a certain period and generally include a mental representation of the relationship and the relationship partner. Social relationships cover diverse types, such as those with family members, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, as well as with other unrelated people. In general, most of these relationships change in number, contact frequency, and relationship quality during adulthood and old age. For example, both the number of and contact with friends and other unrelated people generally decrease with advancing age, whereas the number of and contact with family members remain rather stable. Relatively little is known about longitudinal changes in the quality of relationships, apart from romantic relationships, because few longitudinal studies have tracked specific relationships. Some explanatory factors, which are discussed in the literature, are (a) motivational changes, (b) reduced time due to work and family demands during adulthood, and (c) resource constraints in older age. Future work on social relationships would benefit from increasingly applying dyadic and network approaches to include the perspective of relationship partners as well as from examining online and offline contact in social relationships, which has already proved important among younger adults.
Gerben J. Westerhof and Susanne Wurm
Aging is often associated with inevitable biological decline. Yet research suggests that subjective aging—the views that people have about their own age and aging—contributes to how long and healthy lives they will have. Subjective age and self-perceptions of aging are the two most studied aspects of subjective aging. Both have somewhat different theoretical origins, but they can be measured reliably. A total of 41 studies have been conducted that examined the longitudinal health effects of subjective age and self-perceptions of aging. Across a wide range of health indicators, these studies provide evidence for the longitudinal relation of subjective aging with health and longevity. Three pathways might explain this relation: physiological, behavioral, and psychological pathways. The evidence for behavioral pathways, particularly for health behaviors, is strongest, whereas only a few studies have examined physiological pathways. Studies focusing on psychological pathways have included a variety of mechanisms, ranging from control and developmental regulation to mental health. Given the increase in the number of older people worldwide, even a small positive change in subjective aging might come with a considerable societal impact in terms of health gains.