Self-expansion in Adults Aged 50 and Older: The Role of Volunteering
AuthorHarris, Susan G.
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AbstractTheories in gerontology often imply that successful aging requires the avoidance of disease and decline. The self-expansion model of motivation and cognition (SEM, Aron & Aron, 1986) offers a framework in which phenomena in later life can be examined from a perspective of personal growth and continued development. A pilot study explored self-expansion in adults aged 50+ across different life domains; subsequently, a longitudinal study focusing on self-expansion in volunteering was implemented. A total of 111 active volunteers in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Programs (RSVP) in northern Nevada completed a modified version of the self-expansion questionnaire (SEQ, Lewandowski & Aron, 2002) approximately three months apart. Measures specific to volunteering (role-identity, commitment, volunteer functions) and more general measures (future time perspectives attitudes toward own aging, morale, mastery, attachment style, curiosity and exploration, and personal need for structure) were also included in the survey. Findings of these studies provide evidence that self-expansion occurs in adults aged 50+. Self-expansion in the domain of volunteering was remarkably stable over time. Self-expansion at Time 1 predicted the development of a volunteer identity at Time 2. Future time perspective was found to be concurrently predictive of development of volunteer identity: however, to a lesser degree than self-expansion. An increase in the volunteer function of understanding was also predicted by self-expansion at Time 1. Overall, results from these studies support the use of the self-expansion model in populations aged 50+, and focus attention on aging as a process of continued psychological developmentKey words: aging, self-expansion, volunteering, gerontology.