Psychological development and aging in the Mortensen Group

The purpose of this group is to describe development and change in psychological characteristics over the life-course and to identify early- and later-life biological, psychological and social determinants of development and change in psychological characteristics.

Psychological development and aging in the Mortensen Group

Research focus

Because early development shapes the adult individual and because aging takes place throughout the lifespan, we consider life course studies essential to understand individual differences in aging. Consequently, we conduct studies of early development and determinants of early development, studies of continuity and change in mental characteristics such as personality traits and cognitive ability during adult life and studies of determinants of change and aging over the lifespan.

Essentially, we believe that individual differences among older and elderly people can only be fully understood by including a life course perspective. Interventions to increase an active and healthy lifestyle in old people may be useful, but it we have to remember that the most important factors influencing aging may have influenced the individual long before he or she enters old age.

Main findings

Recent findings include:

  • Early developmental milestones – in particular milestones related to language – are associated with both young adult and midlife intelligence. Early determinants of cognitive development – such as birth weight – also predict midlife cognitive ability.

  • Early life biomedical and social factors – in particular early childhood socioeconomic position – predict midlife allostatic load, presumably reflecting "wear and tear" across the lifespan. The association appear to be stronger in women than men for both biomedical factors (birth complications) and social factors (not living with parents when one year old).

  • Individual differences in cognitive ability or intelligence are surprisingly stable over most of the adult lifespan, including high age. This suggests that individual differences in cognitive aging may be relatively small – compared to the substantial variance in cognitive ability that can be observed in young adults. This may partly explain why it has proven difficult to identify consistent predictors of individual differences in cognitive decline – in spite of consistent age-related change in mean levels of cognitive performance.