Identity is related to wellbeing in older age, research finds

Monday, 23 March 2015

Memory

Research findings on memory, identity and wellbeing in ageing have been published online in the psychology journal Consciousness and Cognition.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded research, led by Dr Clare Rathbone, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Oxford Brookes aimed to examine the relationships between memory, identity, and well-being in younger compared to older adults. 

Dr Clare Rathbone said: “As we age, changes in memory can have a huge impact on both ourselves and our family. As well as forgetting simple day-to-day tasks, people can also forget personal and life events.  

Our results suggest that wellbeing does not depend on what you remember, or even how good your memory is. What is crucial is how you conceptualise your identity in the present moment.

Dr Clare Rathbone, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Oxford Brookes University

“This is called autobiographical memory and it is important to understand this type of memory as it plays a central role in our individuality and sense of identity. We wanted to explore how it would relate to wellbeing.

“In this study we tested 32 younger and 32 older adults on their memory, sense of identity, and their wellbeing. 

“Interestingly, in older adults general forgetfulness didn’t relate to wellbeing at all. Thus, having trouble remembering things did not mean people felt unhappier in life. However, we did find that there was a strong relationship between wellbeing and having a positive view of one’s own identity. 

“We were excited to find that this relationship was particularly strong in the older adult group. These results pave the way for future research aimed to support wellbeing in ageing.

“Our results suggest that wellbeing does not depend on what you remember, or even how good your memory is. What is crucial is how you conceptualise your identity in the present moment.”

This study is part of a programme of work that began in October 2012, when Dr Rathbone was given funding of over £130,000 by the ESRC, and is due to conclude in September this year. Dr Rathbone worked on this study with a group of researchers from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (Professor Emily Holmes), the University of Oxford (Dr Susannah Murphy), and the University of Reading (Professor Judi Ellis).

The study has been published Open Access and is freely available to all. 

More information about the Department of Psychology, Social Work and Public Health can be found on the Oxford Brookes website