Laboratory Of Adult Development

The Laboratory Of Adult Development studies adults and the ways their emotional well-being, physical health and interpersonal functioning are affected by earlier life experiences.

Overview

The Laboratory of Adult Development at Massachusetts General Hospital is devoted to the study of adult lives and how earlier life experience is related to emotional well-being, physical health and interpersonal functioning in adulthood.

Our work spans the entire adult life cycle from late adolescence to the final decades of life.

Our projects involve the collaboration of psychiatrists, psychologists, neuroscientists, internists and social workers, along with undergraduate and graduate students from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Current Research

Study of Adult Development

The Study of Adult Development is the longest-running longitudinal study of adult life ever conducted. For 68 years, two groups of men have been observed from adolescence into late life to identify the predictors of healthy aging. This has allowed us to examine the psychological traits, social factors and biological processes that characterize adolescents and 80-year-olds who evolve into vigorous and engaged 80-year-olds.

The study has created an unprecedented database of life histories with which to view the dynamic character of the aging process.

Study Participants

The two groups of men that make up the study are very different:

  • The Harvard Cohort: a group of 268 Harvard graduates from the classes of 1939-1944, known as the "Grant Study"
  • The Boston Cohort: a group of 456 men who grew up in the inner-city neighborhoods of Boston, originally selected for another study by Harvard Law School professor Sheldon Glueck between 1940 and 1945, known as the "Glueck Study"

Learning About Our Participants

A number of different methods have been used to learn more about our participants:

  • Questionnaires: Every two years, both groups complete questionnaires asking about their physical and mental health, marital quality, career or retirement enjoyment and many other aspects of their lives
  • Health Information: Every five years, health information is collected from the men and their physicians to assess their physical health
  • Interviews: Many of the men from both groups have been interviewed at different intervals over the years to document more in-depth information about their relationships, their careers and their adjustment to aging

Study Focus Areas

The Study of Adult Development has three main areas of focus:

  • Predictors of healthy aging: By observing the adult lives of these two diverse samples, we have been able to identify familial, childhood and psychological variables (e.g. defense mechanisms) that predict happy and healthy adjustments to life, marriage and successful aging. We have also identified variables linked with poor physical or mental health, unhappy marriages and poor adjustment to retirement later in life
  • Marriage: Relationships in late life withstand some of the greatest stresses of the life cycle, such as illness and declining physical functioning. Therefore, the factors that promote stable and satisfying relationships later in life are key to our understanding of positive aging
  • Social neuroscience: We are taking the study in new a direction that will multiply and expand the value of this resource for future scientists and scholars. Genetic information, sensitive tests of intellectual functioning, neuroimaging of brain structure and function and ultimately brain autopsies are being added to nearly 70 years of behavioral data. This will create an unprecedented, irreplaceable resource for the study of social neuroscience linking the brain and behavior in human aging. The combination will allow investigators from diverse disciplines to shed light on some of the most fundamental questions about the aging process

Harvard Second Generation Study

We have begun to study the children of our original participants: the second generation of the Study of Adult Development. Our new project aims to evaluate the effect of childhood experiences on midlife health. We aim to use our rich data set to create a detailed model of how early events help shape our well-being in middle age. This project is currently funded by the National Institute on Aging.

We began contacting the prospective participants in the summer of 2015. We estimate that there are over 2,000 children living across the U.S. today who qualify for this study.

These second generation participants will provide vital information about aging across the lifespan.

For more information, visit the study website.

 

Previous Research

aging couple

Close Relationships Project

This observational study examined the interaction of couples. The goal was to understand how abuse in childhood and current violence in intimate adult relationships affects people's capacities to manage emotional arousal when dealing with conflicts with intimate partners. By observing couples in the laboratory discussing problems in their relationships, we sought to better characterize the interpersonal difficulties that plague the adult relationships of child abuse survivors, which can be compounded by re-victimization within an intimate relationship.

The initial data collection on 109 couples is finished. We are now conducting follow-up examinations. Our goal is to get a longitudinal view of how relationship violence, satisfaction and interaction styles at one point in time relate to relationship stability and satisfaction over time.

Ultimately, we expect that the results of this study will help us design better programs for prevention and treatment of family violence.

W.T. Grant Foundation Archiving Project

Thanks to a grant from the W. T. Grant Foundation, we began a large and important archiving project in 2010. W. T. Grant was the first person to support the Grant Study research project at Harvard University Health Services in 1938 with a $60,000 grant. Now, 75 years later, we are again the grateful recipients of the W. T. Grant Foundation’s generosity.

Because of the rich longitudinal data collected in the Study of Adult Development, it is crucial that we convert the collected data set into an electronic format. This will be available first to study staff and eventually to other researchers and scholars of human development.

With the help of college interns seeking degrees in archiving, publishing and library science and the services of DataBank IMX, a company specializing in document imaging, we are doing a complete digital conversion of both the Glueck Study records and the Grant Study records.

Original study records, which date back to 1939, were handwritten. Later documents were hand-typed until computers became available. Technology has now evolved to enable the study staff to search, manage and store these irreplaceable records on a secure server at Mass General. This archiving project ensures that this priceless study of lives will be preserved well into the future.

 

Our Staff

Research Staff

Robert J. Waldinger, MD - Program Director
Marc Schulz, PhD - Associate Director
George E. Vaillant, MD - Director Emeritus

Michael Nevarez, MD - Research Associate
Melinda I. Morrill, PhD - Research Staff
Valentina Anderegg, PhD - Research Fellow
Simone Chad-Friedman, BA - Clinical Research Coordinator
Stine K. Pehmoller, MSc - Clinical Research Coordinator
Jenna Rice, BA - Clinical Research Coordinator

Co-Investigators

Margie Lachman, PhD - Brandeis University
Kristopher Preacher, PhD - Vanderbilt University
Teresa Seeman, PhD - UCLA
Ron Spiro, PhD - VA Boston Healthcare System
University of Wisconsin Survey Center

Affiliates

Laura Brumariu, PhD - Adelphi University
Kara Cochran, BS - Michigan State University
Shiri Cohen, PhD - Massachusetts General Hospital
Laura Distel, BA - Loyola University Chicago
Sabrina Liu, BA - University of California Santa Barbara
Johanna C. Malone, PhD - Massachusetts General Hospital
Lotte Smith-Hansen, PhD - Suffolk University
Hannah Yee, BA - Harvard University

 

Contact Us

Laboratory of Adult Development

151 Merrimac Street
Boston, MA 02114

Phone: 617-643-7403
Email: Stine K. Pehmoller, MSc, SKPehmoller@mgh.harvard.edu

  Near Public Transit
  Accessible

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