Saturday, September 3, 2016

Older can mean "happier" and more consistent... and the importance of family relationships...





This week three stories related to aging caught my attention and I thought it would be interesting to put them together in this first blog post on the site and see if they really tell us anything.
First, here’s a story I saw about the relative importance of family over friends if you want to stay alive. And here’s my post about it.
I felt that the research is really not reported well. Headlines around the world have taken the wrong message from the study. The major take home message is that social networks are important; close family relationships are also important.
Second, this story seemed to be about a new finding that people are happiest when they are old. I was suspicious because, certainly in terms of life satisfaction, that’s not a new finding. Again, the research is really not reported well. Headlines around the world have taken the wrong message from the study.

At least some indicators of mental health seem to increase steadily from young adulthood to old age. Sometimes researchers talk about an inverted ‘U’ shape to describe mental health over time and this study suggests that a straight line going up might be better. But hold your horses: it’s a cross-sectional study, so it doesn’t show how its participants change over time.
Third, an important discussion about how we shouldn’t write off older workers as unproductive is addressed in an otherwise rather vague and maybe misleading post by two authors of a recently published book about the topic.

Again, the research is really not reported well. There is certainly evidence that older workers are more consistent, and the explanations for why this might be are addressed in the article, but the links between the research and the conclusions are not strong. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
Overall thoughts this week:
There’s a consistent tendency to take the wrong message from the research and write about an interesting or important, but not genuinely related topic. Is that good enough? I feel like I’m missing the voice of the researcher in each of these stories.
What do you think? Is there a need for more accurate reporting? Would you read a comment from the study authors or do you not care? Let me know at editor@hashtagpsychology.com!

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