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Life course influences of physical and cognitive function and personality on attitudes to aging in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936

  • Susan D. Shenkin (a1) (a2), Ken Laidlaw (a3), Mike Allerhand (a2) (a4), Gillian E. Mead (a1), John M. Starr (a1) (a2) (a5) and Ian J. Deary (a2) (a4)...

Reports of attitudes to aging from older people themselves are scarce. Which life course factors predict differences in these attitudes is unknown.


We investigated life course influences on attitudes to aging in healthy, community-dwelling people in the UK. Participants in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 completed a self-report questionnaire (Attitudes to Aging Questionnaire, AAQ) at around age 75 (n = 792, 51.4% male). Demographic, social, physical, cognitive, and personality/mood predictors were assessed, around age 70. Cognitive ability data were available at age 11.


Generally positive attitudes were reported in all three domains: low Psychosocial Loss, high Physical Change, and high Psychological Growth. Hierarchical multiple regression found that demographic, cognitive, and physical variables each explained a relatively small proportion of the variance in attitudes to aging, with the addition of personality/mood variables contributing most significantly. Predictors of attitudes to Psychosocial Loss were high neuroticism; low extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness; high anxiety and depression; and more physical disability. Predictors of attitudes to Physical Change were: high extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness; female sex; social class; and less physical disability. Personality predictors of attitudes to Psychological Growth were similar. In contrast, less affluent environment, living alone, lower vocabulary scores, and slower walking speed predicted more positive attitudes in this domain.


Older people's attitudes to aging are generally positive. The main predictors of attitude are personality traits. Influencing social circumstances, physical well-being, or mood may result in more positive attitudes. Alternatively, interventions to influence attitudes may have a positive impact on associated physical and affective changes.

Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: Dr Susan D Shenkin, Geriatric Medicine, Room S1642, Department of Clinical and Surgical Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, 51 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh EH16 4SB, UK. Phone: +44-(0)131-242-6481; Fax: +44-(0)131-242-6370. Email:
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