Bradley W. Young, Bettina Callary, and Scott Rathwell
Paralleling the graying of the baby boomer generation, there has been remarkable growth in the number of Masters athletes (adult sport participants generally 35+ years old) and Seniors athletes (55+) worldwide. The phenomenon of the aging or older athlete is an opportunity to study the psychological conditions and considerations that distinguish older sportspersons from their younger counterparts. Although the vast majority of sport psychology research focuses on youth and adolescents or young adults in a high-performance context, a critical mass of literature on middle-aged and older athletes has emerged. Much research has aimed to understand the sport motivation of older adults; this work has evolved from early descriptive works to increasingly theoretically grounded and analytically advanced efforts that seek to better understand older athletes’ sport commitment and their long-term goal striving behaviors. Another theme of inquiry relates to the nature of adult athletes’ social motivations and the role of social identity in explaining immersion into sport. Research has examined various social influences on older athletes, and specifically how different social agents and social norms come to bear on older athletes’ sport participation. Much work has interrogated how social support facilitates older sport participation as well as the unique negotiations that older adults make with significant others to sustain their experience. Another research theme has sought to determine the various psychosocial benefits of adult sport, cataloguing benefits related to personal growth, age-related adaptation, and successful aging outcomes. Although the discourse on adult sport has been overly positive, several contributions have problematized aspects of adult sport, challenged the assertion that adult athletes are models that many others could follow, and have further suggested that narratives of Masters athletes may reinforce ageist stigma.
Katherine A. Tamminen and Courtney Braun
Adolescent athletes face increasing opportunities for competition at higher levels, as well as increasing demands on their time, pressure from parents and coaches, and conflicts with teammates and opponents, all during a time when adolescents are exploring different aspects of their identity and sense of self. Sport is a context for adolescent development, and despite the wide array of positive benefits that have been associated with sport participation during adolescence and into adulthood, it is also acknowledged that sport participation does not automatically confer benefits to adolescent athletes, and it may lead to potentially negative experiences and poor psychosocial outcomes.
Key concerns for researchers and practitioners working with adolescent athletes include managing various stressors and the development of adaptive coping strategies, the risk of experiencing sport burnout, bullying, and the potential for withdrawing or dropping out of sport. Despite these concerns, a large body of research among adolescent athletes provides evidence that athletes’ performance and positive psychosocial development may be enhanced among adolescent athletes by intentionally structuring the sport environment to promote positive outcomes; in particular, coaches, parents, and peers play an important role in shaping the sport experiences of adolescent athletes. Furthermore, the psychosocial characteristics and competencies associated with sport participation may not automatically transfer to other areas of adolescents’ lives unless they are intentionally and systematically structured to do so. It is important for coaches, parents, and sport administrators who are involved in developing and delivering programs for adolescent athletes to be aware of some of the psychosocial concerns that are relevant for this population, and to consider intentionally structuring sport programs to promote high levels of achievement as well as healthy psychological and social development among young athletes.
Idan Shalev and Waylon J. Hastings
Stress is a multistage process during which an organism perceives, interprets, and responds to threatening environmental stimuli. Physiological activity in the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems mediates the biological stress response. Although the stress response is adaptive in the short term, exposure to severe or chronic stressors dysregulates these biological systems, promoting maladaptive physiology and an accelerated aging phenotype, including aging on the cellular level. Two structures implicated in this process of stress and cellular aging are telomeres, whose length progressively decreases with age, and mitochondria, whose respiratory activity becomes increasingly inefficient with advanced age. Stress in its various forms is suggested to influence the maintenance and stability of these structures throughout life. Elucidating the interrelated connection between telomeres and mitochondria and how different types of stressors are influencing these structures to drive the aging process is of great interest. A better understanding of this subject can inform clinical treatments and intervention efforts to reduce (or even reverse) the damaging effects of stress on the aging process.
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.
Jeffrey J. Lockman, Nicholas E. Fears, and Emily A. Lewis
Spatial ability is manifest across different psychological domains, including perception, action, and cognition. The development of spatial understanding originates in the perception-action skills of infants. When infants act on the world, either during object manipulation or locomotion, one may begin to glean the foundations of older children’s and adults’ efforts to think, reason, and solve problems more symbolically and abstractly. Even during infancy, different actions, such as reaching and locomotion, may incur different spatial demands, requiring infants to use spatial information flexibly. In the preschool years and beyond, as symbolic skills become more developed, children’s spatial abilities become more abstract, which are reflected in their abilities to think about the layout of environments and to use maps to learn about environments. Besides differences in spatial ability as a function of developmental level, individual differences in spatial ability have also been documented as a function of gender, daily experience, and blindness. Collectively, research on individual differences in spatial development suggests that training procedures can reduce differences in spatial skill that may arise in different individuals. Finally, to understand spatial development more fully, research is needed on the neural bases of spatial development, cross-cultural differences in spatial development, and the impact of technology on spatial behavior.
Laurence B. Leonard
Children with specific language impairment (SLI) have a significant deficit in their ability to acquire language that cannot be attributed to intellectual disability, neurological damage, hearing loss, or a diagnosis of autism. These deficits can be long-standing, and adversely affect other aspects of the affected individual’s life. There seems to be a genetic component to SLI, but the disorder is not likely to be traced to a single gene. The problem appears to be universal, but symptoms vary depending on the language being learned. Current attempts to account for SLI have increased our understanding of the most salient symptoms of the disorder, but a full understanding of SLI is not yet within reach.
Oscar Gonzalez and David P. MacKinnon
Lifespan developmental research studies how individuals change throughout their lifetime and how intraindividual or interindividual change leads to future outcomes. Lifespan researchers are interested in how developmental processes unfold and how specific developmental pathways lead to an outcome. Developmental processes have been previously studied using developmental cascade models, concepts of equifinality and multifinality, and developmental interventions. Statistical mediation analysis also provides a framework for studying developmental processes and developmental pathways by identifying intermediate variables, known as mediators, that transmit the effect between early exposures and future outcomes. The role of statistical mediation in lifespan developmental research is either to explain how the developmental process unfolds, or to identify mediators that researchers can target in interventions so that individuals change developmental pathways. The statistical mediation model is inherently causal, so the relations between the exposures, mediators, and outcomes have to be correctly specified, and ruling out alternative explanations for the relations is of upmost importance.
The statistical mediation model can be extended to deal with longitudinal data. For example, the autoregressive mediation model can represent change through time by examining lagged relations in multiwave datasets. On the other hand, the multilevel mediation model can deal with the clustering of repeated measures within individuals to study intraindividual and interindividual change. Finally, the latent growth curve mediation model can represent the variability of linear and nonlinear trajectories for individuals in the variables in the mediation model through time. As a result, developmental researchers have access to a range of models that could describe the theory of change they want to study. Researchers are encouraged to consider mechanisms of change and to formulate mediation hypotheses about lifespan development.
Agus Surachman and David M. Almeida
Stress is a broad and complex phenomenon characterized by environmental demands, internal psychological processes, and physical outcomes. The study of stress is multifaceted and commonly divided into three theoretical perspectives: social, psychological, and biological. The social stress perspective emphasizes how stressful life experiences are embedded into social structures and hierarchies. The psychological stress perspective highlights internal processes that occur during stressful situations, such as individual appraisals of the threat and harm of the stressors and of the ways of coping with such stressors. Finally, the biological stress perspective focuses on the acute and long-term physiological changes that result from stressors and their associated psychological appraisals. Stress and coping are inherently intertwined with adult development.
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.
John W. Rowe and Dawn C. Carr
While the factors that influence the well-being of individuals in late life have long been a major concern of research in aging, they have been a particularly active area of research and debate since the 1980s and continue to have a prominent role in gerontological research and debate. Early research on aging (from the 1920s to the 1960s) focused largely on examining typical problems that come with aging. The term successful aging was initially used to describe those who aged better than expected. In the 1980s, the MacArthur Network on Successful Aging, concerned that the field of gerontology had become preoccupied with disease and disability to the neglect of studies of the factors that fostered doing well in late life, conducted a series of studies of high-performing older persons and formulated the MacArthur theory of successful aging, which included three principal components: avoidance of disease, maintenance of physical and cognitive function, and engagement with society. Since its initial publication, the concept of successful aging has been applied to many subpopulations of older persons based on geography (East vs. West), socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, religion, cognitive or physical function, and disease states.