Monday, October 23, 2006

Perception Creates Reality

Do you need more proof of the importance of image and reputation? According to "Old but Not Frail: A Matter of Heart and Head", a story by The New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata, a positive self-image can mean a longer, healthier life!

Researchers have found that, in many cases, a single factor, undetected cardiovascular disease, is a major reason many older people become frail. But a second finding -- one that is surprising skeptical scientists -- is that the old cliché is true: you're only as old as you think you are. "Rigorous studies are now showing that seeing, or hearing, gloomy nostrums about what it is like to be old can make people walk more slowly, hear and remember less well, and even affect their cardiovascular systems," writes Kolata. "Positive images of aging have the opposite effects."

The 20-year Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement revealed that people who had more positive views about aging were healthier over time. Moreover, they lived an average of 7.6 years longer than those of a similar age who did not hold such views... regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic status. (I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a good self-image also enables corporations to live longer lives, as well!)

Dr. Becca Levy, a psychologist at Yale University, sees a bright future for today's middle-age people if they avoid negative stereotypes (e.g., "decline," "senile," "confused" and "decrepit.") and embrace a positive self-image when it comes to aging (e.g., "wise," "alert," "sage" and "learned"). "Then they become a self-fulfilling prophecy," according to Dr. Levy.

There's a real PR challenge out there in terms of the discriminatory attitude of Americans towards the elderly. With all due respect to AARP -- and the excellent job it's doing to enhance quality of life for everyone over the age of 50 -- the image issue is a challenge I'd like to see the Public Relations Society of America take on as a pro bono effort.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Perception creates reality.

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