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  • Print publication year: 1990
  • Online publication date: March 2010

1 - Psychological perspectives on successful aging: The model of selective optimization with compensation


The purpose of this chapter is twofold. First, we review research on the nature of psychological aging in terms of seven propositions. Second, we present a psychological model for the study of successful aging that, we contend, is consistent with the propositional framework. The approach advanced is based on the premise that successful, individual development (including aging) is a process involving three components: selection, optimization, and compensation. How these components of adaption are realized depends on the specific personal and societal circumstances individuals face and produce as they age.


Two scientific concepts have had a major impact on our thinking about successful aging: interindividual variability and intraindividual plasticity (M. Baltes & P. Baltes, 1982; P. Baltes & M. Baltes, 1980; P. Baltes & Schaie, 1976). Reflection on the theoretical and policy-related implications of both concepts has suggested to us that there is much opportunity for the continual optimization of human development (see also Brim & Kagan, 1980; Labouvie-Vief, 1981; Lerner, 1984). Over the years, we have begun to believe that systematic age-related shifts in the extent of variability and plasticity are cornerstones for a developmental theory of human adaptation. Initial evidence for this perspective is available in our first attempt to formulate an agenda for successful aging (P. Baltes & M. Baltes, 1980). After reviewing research on variability and plasticity, we laid the groundwork for a prototheory of successful aging as an adaptive process involving the components of selection, optimization, and compensation.

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