Level of aspiration and some criteria of adjustment in an aged population

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The Problem: Recent increases in the number of senescents in the general population and concomitant increases in the number of medical and social problems among this age group (Greenleigh, 1952), have produced an urgent need for empirical study of the correlates of "successful” and "unsuccessful" aging. One explanation that has been offered for the difficulties encountered by older people in modern civilization is that the shift from an agricultural to an urban economy has eliminated the useful roles served by the older people as grandparents in the home while not offering any substitute useful roles (Poliak, 1948). Another explanation that has been offered for many of the difficulties in old age has been that of physical decline. However, recent studies by Rothschild (1945) and by Busse et al. (1954) have indicated that there is far from a one-to-one relationship between physical status, especially with regard to the central nervous system, and level of adjustment. Individuals were seen with gross pathology of the central nervous system who did not seem to be having any difficulties in leading satisfactory lives. The results of these studies suggested that social and attitudinal variables might have more direct relationships to adjustment level than any but the most marked physical disorders. Unfortunately, psychological studies of old age have been mostly concerned with the developmental aspects of aging and have not devoted much attention to the correlates of differential adjustment among the aged them- selves. Most investigations were restricted to study of the intellectual and psychomotor aspects of aging (Miles, 1942; Jones and Kaplan, 1945; Granick, 1950). Little attention was paid to personality factors until quite recently. However, the need for information regarding the personality characteristics associated with the aging process and especially of those associated with differentially “satisfactory” aging has been recognized and has resulted in an increasing number of broad range studies devoted to investigation of the relationships of specific personality variables to adjustment level in senescence, e. g. , interests, self-concept. Many of these studies have involved the use of the Rorschach and de- spite the marked differences in some of the social characteristics of the populations sampled in the Rorschach studies (Klopfer, 1946; Prados and Fried, 1947; Davidson and Kruglov, 1952; Caldwell, 1954), the findings have been very consistent. The conclusions in each study are generally that older people evidence reduced emotional responsiveness, and an increase in stereotyped thinking, and in intellectual inefficiency. A comparison of com- munity and institutionalized aged by Klopfer (1946) revealed little difference in Rorschach characteristics. However, the institutional population in this study came from a home for the aged where individuals with gross physical or mental difficulties were not accepted so that one may wonder whether any differences were to he expected. A major defect of these studies has been that the results have been interpreted generally in terms of comparison with young adult norms and little attempt has been made to explore the relation- ships between specific Rorschach characteristics and behavioral attributes of the aged. The published empirical studies of specific personality characteristics associated with differential adjustment level, using institutionalization or lack of it as the criterion of adjustment, have been devoted almost exclusively to investigation of the affective quality of the self-concept, i. e. , positive or negative self-concept. Tuckman, Lorge, Steinhardt and Zeman (1953) found institutionalized aged subjects to report fewer physical and mental symptoms on a health questionnaire than a group of aged subjects living in the community despite the fact that, objectively, the institutional group actually had more symptoms of poor health. The authors explained these findings in terms of the more negative self-concept of the institutionalized aged which allowed them to consider illness in old age as normal and therefore not worthy of mention. … It was in light of these considerations that the current study was undertaken in an attempt to establish a more suitable approach to the measurement of adjustment level, in terms of specific behaviors, rather than as indicated by institutionalization, or the lack of it. The self-concept, as previously noted, has long been regarded as a central psychological variable determining behavior. If certain "adjusted" behaviors can be identified, then we would expect the self-concept to predict these behaviors in a consistent manner in the aged as well as in any other group. In the following pages, we will outline the considerations which determined the specific variables that were selected for study and we will state our problem formally.



This thesis was digitized as part of a project begun in 2014 to increase the number of Duke psychology theses available online. The digitization project was spearheaded by Ciara Healy.



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