Examining the roles of identity processing styles and self-perceptions of aging on well-being in later life

Alexa Mary Polverino, Fordham University


Past research findings suggest that age self-stereotyping (i.e., internalized ageism) poses serious threats to older adult's physical and psychological well-being. The present study explored the psychological mechanisms through which such self-stereotyping operate using Whitbourne's identity processing theory as the theoretical framework for understanding the ways in which internalized ageism negatively impacts adjustment to aging. LISREL 8.80 was used to conduct an exploratory path analysis to ascertain the relationships between Whitbourne's three identity processing styles (i.e., identity accommodation, assimilation, balance), attitude towards own aging (ATOA), and positive aging outcome variables (psychological well-being, health-related quality of life, medical adherence). Nonparametric correlation analysis was also used to explore relationships between health engagement control strategies and identity styles. Path analytic findings using 242 primarily White, community-dwelling adults (age 65–98) recruited from senior centers (n = 179), personal contacts (n = 54), and the internet ( n = 9) revealed both Whitbourne's balance and accommodation produced significant indirect and total effects on both psychological well-being and health and functioning scores as mediated primarily by ATOA scores. Findings were consistent with past studies finding balance to be the optimal approach to aging, and accommodation associated with the most negative outcomes. Balance in this study was associated with higher levels of psychological well-being, health-related quality of life, and adherence. In contrast, accommodation was negatively associated with psychological well-being, health-related quality of life, and adherence. For accommodation and balance, attitude towards own aging significantly functioned as a mediating variable in predicting both psychological well-being and health-related quality of life, by increasing attitude towards aging for balance and decreasing these scores for accommodation. Findings provide support for the hypothesis that internalized ageism associated with accommodation would be predictive of poorer physical and psychological adjustment. Aside from identity assimilation's significant total effect on health-related quality of life, assimilation was essentially non-informative in predicting positive aging. In conclusion, findings support Whitbourne and Sneed's hypothesis on the utility of considering internalization of ageist stereotypes within a self-system framework to predict positive adaptation. Limitations and implications for theory, research, and practice were discussed.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Aging|Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Polverino, Alexa Mary, "Examining the roles of identity processing styles and self-perceptions of aging on well-being in later life" (2010). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3407467.