Aug 02, 2018

Can remembering make you younger?

Imagine this. You have been taken to a house that strongly resembles places you knew when you were young. The layout and decor are similar, the music being played is similar, and the people around you, indeed you yourself, are wearing clothes that were fashionable when you were a young person.

There are no mirrors; you can only see photographs of yourself as a young person.

And what if you were also treated as though you were a younger person. If you were asked to move your own bags into your room, even if it meant moving one item of clothing at a time.

And you were shown movies and news from the past, and asked to discuss them as though they were occurring in the present.

Would you begin to feel as though you were living in the past? And would that make you begin to feel as though you were your younger self again?

If you believe that you are younger, do you think that could actually have a positive effect on your health?

Ellen Langer study

That’s exactly what was found in a famous study by psychologist Ellen Langer. Back in 1981, she conducted a study that found that people did indeed begin to appear younger when they felt younger after being immersed in an environment rich in artefacts and experiences from a time when they were young.

The small study, of only eight men and conducted over five days, aimed to recreate life in 1959. At the end of the five days, the subjects found that their skin was more supple, they sat taller, and they had greater manual dexterity. Their sight improved, and it was even observed that they looked younger.

It was as though the experience had “put their mind in an earlier time”, Langer told the New York Times in an interview.

The research was considered to be too unconventional for publishing in the academic press at the time, and Langer didn’t follow up on it.

A BBC series showed the same effects

But then, in 2010, the BBC broadcast a recreation of the experiment, with Langer as a consultant.

Six ageing celebrities spent a week in a home refitted for the 1970s – and the effects were just as astonishing as Langer’s earlier findings.

One who arrived in a wheelchair, walked out of the home at the end of the week. All appeared to look younger and walk taller.

Emerging from almost retirement to become television stars, it appears that the confidence and purpose they regained allowed them to reclaim their bodies.

The studies have us asking, does how we feel about ourselves dictate how healthy we are?

What do you think? Do you know of seniors that have ‘come to life’ and appear younger when they are exposed to artefacts or an environment that ‘reminds them’ of their former selves?


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