People get kinder with age, study finds
Science has something to say about the ‘grumpy old people’ stereotype
The stereotype of the ‘grumpy old man/woman’ is something that’s present in most of our lives, and scattered throughout the media we consume – but is it about time we challenged the notion?
The answer could be, yes, as, According to a new study published in Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, people may actually get kinder as they age – with findings showing that helping behaviours and life satisfaction generally begin to increase after middle age.
Researchers found that this behaviour is largely linked to a rise in the levels of the hormone oxytocin (the ‘feel-good’ chemical) as we age – with oxytocin previously linked to influences on trust, altruism, charity, and generosity.
Using blood samples from 103 participants, aged between 18 and 99, to measure oxytocin levels, the researchers looked at three prosocial behaviours: money and goods donated to charity during the past year, and social-sector volunteering.
Additionally, they showed the participants a video about a boy with cancer, which previous studies had found to induce oxytocin release in the brain. Blood was taken before and after the video to measure the change. They were also given the option to donate some of their earnings from the study to a childhood cancer charity, which was also used to measure their immediate prosocial behaviour. The findings indicated that the neural chemistry that helps sustain social relationships and, consequently, live a fulfilled life, appears to strengthen with age.
While the results are fascinating, the researchers noted that more study is needed to further our understanding of this area – and they also noted the link between genes, our developmental history, and current life events and the brain’s release of oxytocin – finding examples in the study of young people who released a lot of oxytocin and older people who did not.
Of course, it’s also worth considering the self-fulfilling cycle of ‘doing good because you feel good’ and ‘feeling good because you’re doing good’ – a phenomenon that has been noted in previous studies looking at the ways that volunteering can support our mental health and overall wellbeing. Beyond that, a sense of purpose and unity is also hugely beneficial.
So, is it time that we waved goodbye to the ‘grumpy old so-and-so’ stereotypes? Probably, yes. Not least because of the joy that is so often found in growing older, but also because a study conducted by Orb Media found that people who have a positive attitude towards getting older have better mental health and, incredibly, actually live longer.
By the year 2050, the UN estimates that one in six people in the world will be over 65 years old, and nearly half a billion will be older than 80. So, let’s rethink our takes on ageing, and embrace the opportunities for connection and kindness that are waiting on the horizon.