Sociologists examine population’s challenges
Sociologists at the Population Research Center are working to understand the aging process through studies funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a division of the National Institutes of Health. Since 2000, the NIA has contributed more than $3.8 million to their research, which has national implications for the aging population.
With Age Comes a Sense of Peace and Calm
A new NIA-funded study from the Population Research Center reveals that aging brings a sense of peace and calm. Starting at about age 60, participants reported more feelings of ease and contentment than their younger counterparts.
Catherine Ross and John Mirowsky, professors of sociology, published the study “Age and the Balance of Emotions” in a recent issue of Social Science and Medicine. They examined 1,450 responses to the 1996 U.S. General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center.
Previous research on emotions associated with aging has focused on negative emotions, such as depression. The findings reveal aging is associated with more positive than negative emotions, and more passive than active emotions, Ross says.
“The passive/positive combination reveals that contentment, calm and ease are some of the most common emotions people feel as they age,” Ross says. “Emotions that are both active and negative, such as anxiety and anger, are especially unlikely among the elderly.”
Death of a Parent: Transition to a New Adult Identity
As Baby Boomers begin to confront their own aging and retirement, they face the added challenge of losing a parent. The death of a mother or father can be emotionally devastating for many adult children who suddenly find themselves the oldest generation of their family.
“A parent’s death has a much more profound and farreaching impact on adult children than most people believe,” says Debra Umberson, sociologist and author of “Death of a Parent: Transition to a New Adult Identity” (2003).
Based on in-depth interviews and data collected nationwide, “Death of a Parent” explores the social and psychological factors that determine how this loss affects adult children, and whether it will function as a personal crisis, or opportunity for healthy change.
“The time following a parent’s death is a period of tremendous upheaval and change in the way we think about who we are and what we want to accomplish in life,” Umberson says. “The loss can sharpen our sense of our own mortality. Many adults make important changes in their health habits that can have a long-term influence on their health.”
Although an individual’s health is likely to decline during the short term following a parent’s death, the long-term outlook on their physical health is much more positive, says Umberson, whose research was recognized by the NIA with a FIRST Award for independent, innovative research.
In Treatment: Historian Studies the Birth of Psychotherapy in America
The idea that individuals could relieve mental disorders by revealing unconscious thoughts through talk was unheard of during the late 19th century when Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist introduced his psychoanalytic system of treatment to the public.
“Critical reactions to Freud’s controversial ‘talking-cure’ remain mixed, but few dispute his far-reaching impact on the field of psychology,” says Robert Abzug, the Oliver H. Radkey Regents Professor of History and American Studies and director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies. “The various forms of psychotherapy that derived from Freud comprise some of the most influential forms of healing practiced during the 20th century.”
Abzug has devoted his recent research and teaching to exploring the cultural meanings of psychotherapy in America. He teaches courses such as “Psychology and Religion in Modern American Culture” and “The Birth of Psychotherapy.” He also is writing a biography of American psychologist Rollo May.
“May sought to infuse the practice of psychotherapy with what he called a humanistic science of man, encompassing existentialism and ideas dating back to classical antiquity,” Abzug says. “Though Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis established the basic idea of therapy, May and other psychologists of the 1940s and 1950s enhanced public acceptance of psychotherapy and helped to shape its everyday practice in the United States during the post-World War II era.”
May’s best-known works include “The Meaning of Anxiety” (1950), “Man’s Search for Himself” (1953), “Love and Will” (1969) and “The Courage to Create” (1975), which merged philosophy, psychoanalysis, theology, art, literature and observations of contemporary society.
Abzug’s research on May has been supported by the Guggenheim Foundation and research leave from the university. He is the author of several books, including “Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps,” “Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination” and “America Views the Holocaust, 1933-1945.”
Learn more about Abzug’s work with the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies.