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Plasticity - Plasticity In Human Aging

developmental psychology developmental development cognitive

Plasticity is a principal theoretical issue in life-span developmental psychology. A rationale for its relevance to life-span theory was offered by Baltes, Staudinger, and Lindenberger (1999, p. 480), who concluded that an emphasis on plasticity "highlights the search for the potentialities of development, including the upper and lower boundary conditions. Implied in the idea of plasticity is that any given developmental outcome is but one of numerous possible outcomes, and that the search for the conditions and range of plasticity. . .is fundamental to the study of development." Implications of these ideas are especially pertinent to the study of decremental processes in aging, for they suggest that the decline may be reversed if enhancing experience (e.g., training, practice) is provided.

Accordingly, plasticity has been identified as a core theoretical issue in the study of adult cognitive development. Plasticity implies that some normal aging-related cognitive decline may be reversible. Indeed, research providing experience-enhancing interventions to older adults has produced results linking specific experience to particular behaviors and skills, ranging from intelligence and memory to leisure or professional expertise. Older adults who are provided with task-related experience (e.g., practice, strategies) in some domains may maintain or develop higher levels of performance than would have otherwise seemed possible. Phenomena of plasticity are relevant to theories of cognitive aging. Similarly, empirical evidence for plasticity provides fertile soil from which everyday interventions for normal aging-related losses may be generated.

Plasticity is a concept of considerable importance to understanding how human beings change as they become older—and how they could change given certain experiences. Applied to both biological and psychological aging, it offers a cautiously optimistic perspective, for it illustrates that there is both a neurological and psychological basis for guided interventions designed to enhance adaptation in late life.

ROGER A. DIXON ANNA-LISA COHEN STUART W. S. MACDONALD

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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BALTES, P., B. "Theoretical Propositions of Life-Span Developmental Psychology: On the Dynamics Between Growth and Decline." Developmental Psychology 23 (1987): 611–628.

BALTES, P. B.; STAUDINGER, U. M.; and LINDENBERGER, U. "Lifespan Psychology: Theory and Application to Intellectual Functioning." Annual Review of Psychology 50 (1999): 471–507.

DIXON, R. A., and BÄCKMAN, L. "Concepts of Compensation: Integrated, Differentiated, and Janus-Faced." In Compensating for Psychological Deficits and Declines: Managing Losses and Promoting Gains. Edited by R. A. Dixon and L. Bäckman. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995. Pages 3–19.

DIXON, R. A., and HERTZOG, C. "Theoretical Issues in Cognition and Aging." In Perspectives on Cognitive Change in Adulthood and Aging. Edited by F. Blanchard Fields and T. M Hess. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996. Pages 25–65.

ERICSSON, K. A., and CHARNESS, N. "Expert Performance: Its Structure and Acquisition." American Psychologist 49 (1994): 725–747.

GOLLIN, E. S. Developmental Plasticity: Behavioral and Biological Aspects of Variations in Development. New York: Academic Press, 1981.

HEBB, D. O. The Organization of Behavior. New York: Wiley, 1949.

KOLB, B. Brain Plasticity and Behavior. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995. KOLB, B., and WHISHAW, I. Q. "Brain Plasticity and Behavior." Annual Review of Psychology 49 (1998): 43–64.

LERNER, R. M. On the Nature of Human Plasticity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

LURIA, A. R. Restoration of Function After Brain Injury. New York: Macmillan, 1963.

ROBERTSON, I. H., and MURRE, J. M. J. "Rehabilitation of Brain Damage: Brain Plasticity and Principles of Guided Recovery." Psychological Bulletin 125 (1999): 544–575.

STUSS, D. T.; WINOCUR, G.; and ROBERTSON, I. H., eds. Cognitive Neurorehabilitation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

VERHAEGHEN, P.; MARCOEN, A.; and GOOSENS, L. "Improving Memory Performance in the Aged Through Mnemonic Training: A Meta-Analytic Study." Psychology and Aging 7 (1992): 242–251.

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