"Feeling younger, being stronger": an experimental study of subjective age and physical functioning among older adults

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2013 Jan;68(1):1-7. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbs037. Epub 2012 Apr 6.


Objectives: The present study is an attempt to experimentally induce a younger subjective age among older adults and to test whether they show better physical functioning when they are induced to feel younger.

Method: Participants were 49 older adults aged between 52 and 91 years. Following an initial measure of handgrip performance as an indicator of physical functioning, participants in the experimental condition received positive feedback regarding their performance compared with their same-aged peers, whereas participants in the control condition did not receive any information. Participants in both groups then completed a second handgrip measure. Subjective age was assessed before the initial handgrip task and after the experimental manipulation.

Results: Participants in the experimental group felt younger than their age and showed a significant increase in grip strength, whereas no changes in subjective age and grip strength were observed in the control condition.

Discussion: This study is among the first to induce a younger subjective age. It supports the notion that redirecting older adults' attention to downward social comparison with same-aged peers is a promising strategy to maintain a sense of feeling younger. In addition, our results provide an initial positive answer to the question of whether feeling younger translates into better physical functioning.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Exercise Test / methods
  • Exercise Test / psychology*
  • Female
  • Hand Strength / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Social Perception
  • Surveys and Questionnaires