Aging: Genetic and Environmental Influences

Books

Cindy S. Bergeman

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  • Back Matter
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  • Individual Differences and Development Series

    Robert Plomin, Series Editor

    The purpose of the Sage Series on Individual Differences and Development is to provide a forum for a new wave of research that focuses on individual differences in behavioral development.

    Editorial Board

    Dr. Paul B. Baltes

    Director, Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education

    Dr. Dante Cicchetti

    Director, Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester

    Dr. E. Mavis Heatherington

    Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia

    Dr. Carroll E. Izard

    Professor of Psychology, University of Delaware

    Dr. Robert B. McCall

    Director, Office of Child Development, University of Pittsburgh

    Michael Rutter

    Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, London, England

    Dr. Richard Snow

    Professor of Education and Psychology, Stanford University

    Dr. Stephen J. Suomi

    Chief, Laboratory of Comparative Ethology, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

    Dr. Elizabeth J. Susman

    Professor of Nursing and Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University

    Books in This Series

    Volume 1 HIGH SCHOOL UNDERACHIEVERS: What Do They Achieve as Adults?

    Robert B. McCall, Cynthia Evahn, and Lynn Kratzer

    Volume 2 GENES AND ENVIRONMENT IN PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT

    John C. Loehlin

    Volume 3 THE NATURE OF NURTURE

    Theodore D. Wachs

    Volume 4 YOUNG CHILDREN'S CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS: Beyond Attachment

    Judy Dunn

    Volume 5 INFANT COGNITION: Predicting Later Intellectual Functioning

    John Colombo

    Volume 6 GENETICS AND EXPERIENCE: The Interplay Between

    Nature and Nurture

    Robert Plomin

    Volume 7 INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT

    Cecilia M. Shore

    Volume 8 PERCEIVED CONTROL, MOTIVATION, & COPING

    Ellen A. Skinner

    Volume 9 AGING: Genetic and Environmental Influences

    Cindy S. Bergeman

    Copyright

    View Copyright Page

    Series Editor's Preface

    I am very pleased to welcome Cindy Bergeman's book to the Sage Series on Individual Differences and Development. When we decided to launch the series, aging was the prototype topic that we had in mind. The area is ripe for a review of what is known about the origins of individual differences. Although much research on aging has focused on normative development—for example, asking whether average cognitive ability declines with age—researchers have in recent years turned to questions about variance, the very standard deviation, rather than averages. Contrary to stereotypes about aging that pigeonhole elderly individuals with epithets like “the elderly,” in fact the range of differences among elderly individuals is just as great as in the rest of the life span. The timing of this book is perfect because it caps a recent wave of interest in describing the extent to which individuals differ in their biological and behavioral functioning in later life.

    This book goes beyond describing how much individuals differ later in life to ask why they differ. It brings together exciting new research on the genetic and environmental origins of individual differences in functioning in later life, focusing on the three major domains of biological, psychological, and social aspects of aging.

    It is written for the gerontologist who wants to learn about genetics. For example, it provides an excellent introduction to basic genetic designs and it is written in gerontologist-friendly style. Gerontology has been somewhat slow to come to genetic research. Up until 10 years ago, there was just one study designed to investigate the genetic and environmental origins of individual differences in later life. This means that gerontologists are in the enviable position of being able to avoid the empty debates about nature and nurture and to get on to the interesting research discussed in this book. Also, because of the success in finding specific genes associated with Alzheimer's disease, gerontologists have leap-frogged into the new era of molecular genetics of complex dimensions and disorders.

    I am especially pleased that Cindy Bergeman agreed to take on this project because she is an exemplar of the new generation of behavioral geneticists who are not carpetbaggers with their bag of genetic tools gleefully measuring heritabilities for any trait they come across. Instead, she is a gerontologist and also a geneticist, who, in this book as well as in her own research, uses genetic research strategies to ask and answer theory-driven questions about the origins of individual differences in aging.

    RobertPlomin

    Acknowledgments

    I did not have time to write this book without taking away from other important commitments. I appreciate the support provided by the Department of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, especially from Scott Maxwell. In addition, I would like to thank my graduate students, Kimberly Wallace, Alesha Seroczynski, Judy Randolph, Marcie Coulter, Amy Heesacker, Ed Delgado, Toni Bisconti, and Cindy Voorhees, not only for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript, but for their patience as well. I am also extremely grateful for the constructive reviews provided by Matt McGue and Margy Gatz. This book has profited from their suggestions. In addition, Gerald McClearn, John Nesselroade, and Nancy Pedersen deserve much credit for their contributions to my development as a gerontological behavioral geneticist.

    I would especially like to thank Robert Plomin, mentor and friend, for giving me the opportunity to write this book and for guiding me through the process. Finally, although it almost seems a cliché to thank your family for all of their support, its importance is beyond measure. I endured a lot of teasing, but the love and encouragement I received from Dean, Brianne, and Hannah truly made the writing of this book possible. Thanks for sharing my good times and my bad.

    Preface

    Although older individuals are often portrayed with stereotypes of “the elderly,” differences among individuals during senescence are as marked as in any other developmental era. Research in the field of gerontology has indicated that there are large individual differences in personality, cognitive functioning, physical health, and psychological well-being, as well as in the quality of life in the later years. It is this variability, and the reasons why people age differently, that has precipitated the writing of this book.

    So, why do people age differently? A behavioral genetic approach to answering this question focuses on two broad categories: Nature (genetic influences on development) and nurture (the influence of the environment). Although much behavioral genetic research has been done on infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, the study of genetic and environmental influences on individual differences in development in middle and old age is still in the early stages. The purpose of this book is threefold: first, to inform researchers and clinicians in gerontology about the behavioral genetic perspective; second, to present an overview of what is known about genetic and environmental influences on behavioral aging; and, finally, to stimulate future work in this field by discussing what is not yet known but can be discovered about the origins of individual differences later in life.

    The first chapter provides a brief overview of behavioral genetic theory and methodology. It is not intended as an exhaustive review, but rather as basic information to aid the reader in understanding the behavioral genetic perspective. To accomplish this, the chapter begins with a discussion of major issues in development in later life with a focus on three different aspects of aging—biological, psychological, and social. Included with this dialogue is an overview of how gerontological behavioral genetics is ideally suited to answer questions about the etiology of individual differences in the aging process. A description of the three basic behavioral genetic research designs—family, twin, and adoption designs—follows, and the chapter concludes with an explanation of how genetic and environmental influences on behavioral aging can be assessed using basic correlation and model-fitting approaches.

    The next three chapters provide a review of what is known about behavioral genetics and aging. The results are divided into the three broad categories discussed in Chapter 1: biological (Chapter 2), psychological (Chapter 3), and social (Chapter 4). This delineation is suggested as a useful tool for grouping the research in the field, not as a definitive classification. For example, Chapter 2 provides a review of the research in the areas of longevity and health in later life; Chapter 3 focuses on cognitive functioning, personality, and psychopathology; and Chapter 4 presents information related to social support, life events, and measures of the family environment. Finally, Chapter 5 summarizes the field of gerontological behavioral genetics and discusses its implications for theory, research, and intervention. Included in this chapter are suggestions for possible applications of this perspective to current research in gerontology.

    CindyBergeman
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    About the Author

    Cindy S. Bergeman is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. She received her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies in 1989 from The Pennsylvania State University, where she specialized in Behavioral Genetics and Gerontology. Her current research interests focus on genetic and environmental influences on the aging process with the ultimate goal of disentangling the complex interactions that contribute to more optimal outcomes in later life.


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