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Brainwashing makes the elderly fitter

The over 60s get fitter if they are brainwashed into thinking more positively about ageing and the elderly, according to an article that researchers at Yale University published in Psychological Science. The researchers got elderly people to look at a screen where subliminal messages were projected.

Brainwashing makes the elderly fitter

Subliminal messages
Brainwashing makes the elderly fitter
The simplest subliminal messages are the ones that appear during films; they appear so briefly that you're not even aware that you see them. Nevertheless these messages can change how you think about things and how you behave.

The advertising industry still sometimes makes use of subliminal messages. Secretly of course, and to get us to eat even more rubbish. The researchers mentioned here wanted to use this technique in a positive way however.

The researchers made a list of positive associations we might have with old people. For example, we can think of old people as being 'wise', 'active', 'involved', 'tough' or 'experienced'. The researchers translated these associations into words and built a programme to let the words appear subliminally on a computer screen.

The researchers then got a group of subjects, aged between 60 and 99, to look at the messages once a week, which they saw as a kind of flickering image. A control group was given subliminal messages with a neutral content to look at.

The researchers hoped that their subliminal messages would change the way their subjects thought about ageing and themselves. They therefore used questionnaires to determine the conceptions that the subjects had on these matters.

The subjects who had looked at the positive subliminal messages [purple bars in the figures below] started to think more positively about ageing in general and their own ageing during the period of 8 months that the experiment lasted. Little changed in the control group [blue bars].

Brainwashing makes the elderly fitter

The subliminal messages also improved the physical functioning of the subjects. The researchers used simple tests to measure this, such as where subjects had to sit down and stand up from a chair as quickly as possible in succession, or had to walk as quickly as possible for a certain distance.

The researchers therefore concluded that starting to think more positively about ageing improves physical functioning.

Brainwashing makes the elderly fitter

In our society 'youth' is associated with positive qualities while 'old age' is regarded in a negative light. Ageing means deterioration. Old age means degeneration, forgetfulness, senility, decrepitude. These ideas themselves weaken old people physically and cause them to function less well. The researchers have shown that adjusting one's ideas on ageing can make elderly people fitter in a surreptitious way.

In 2013 sports scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign published a study in which they had given over 65s DVDs with fitness exercises adjusted for age. [J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2013 Sep;68(9):1076-82.] During this trial, which lasted six months, the subjects became fitter as a result. But the effect of four weeks of brainwashing on physical functioning done in the Yale study was bigger...

Psychol Sci. 2014 Dec;25(12):2127-35.

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Psychology of Longevity

Autonomous people live longer Book readers live a few years longer Old-school psychiatrists live longer

Autonomous people live longer
If your life is a car, are you behind the wheel yourself? If you can answer that question truthfully with a heartfelt 'yes', then chances are you still have a long life ahead of you.

Book readers live a few years longer
Reading newspapers and magazines also has a life-extending effect, but not as marked.

Old-school psychiatrists live longer
When psychiatrists were not yet prescribing psychotropics, they would lay their clients on couches and have deep conversations with them, hoping to discover neuroses that were making their clients sick.