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Feeling Needed: Effects of Generativity on Health and Well-Being in Older Women


Generativity—concern and care for the well-being of others, particularly younger generations—is an important component of successful aging. However, generativity has been understudied in older adults, and despite the potential for generativity interventions to positively impact health and well-being, this area of investigation has been especially lacking. The goal of this dissertation was to address this gap in the literature by designing and testing the effect of a novel writing-based generativity intervention in a sample of older women (aged 60 and over, n=73). Participants in this study were randomly assigned to complete six weeks of writing either intended to increase feelings of generativity by sharing experiences and advice with others (generativity condition) or intended to be neutral, descriptive writing (control condition). Pre- and post-intervention, participants completed self-report assessments of multiple domains of health, including social well-being, mental health, and physical health. Additionally, blood samples were collected to assess circulating levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and pro-inflammatory gene expression.

To begin, Paper 1 describes the main effects of this novel writing-based generativity intervention on health and well-being. The generativity intervention led to improvements across multiple measures, including increases in participation in social activities, decreases in psychological distress, more positive expectations regarding aging in the physical health domain, and decreases in inflammatory biology as assessed by gene expression and bioinformatic analyses.

Paper 2 describes the effect of another psychosocial factor, expectations regarding aging, in the context of this generativity intervention. Beliefs about aging can influence well-being, and this paper tested whether expectations regarding aging moderate the impact of a generativity intervention on social outcomes. As hypothesized, results indicated that participants in the generativity condition with more positive expectations regarding mental health reported greater perceptions of social support and lower feelings of loneliness post-intervention.

Together, the results of these papers contribute to our understanding of generativity and aging, which is an important but understudied area of research. They also emphasize the importance of studying psychosocial factors such as generativity and beliefs about aging and suggest that a writing-based generativity intervention may be impactful in improving health and well-being in older adults.

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