In Ellen Langers 1981 study, later named ‘Counter Clockwise’, she designed a radical experiment surrounding eight men in their 70’s. In many ways, this study also relates to our basic psychological needs as humans – competence, relatedness, and autonomy.
For five days, the men participated by immersing themselves in a stay at a monastery that had been converted to resemble life from the year 1959 – a time when the men were younger and healthier. Before beginning their stay, the men were assessed on some testable biomarkers of age – cognition, flexibility, hearing and vision, memory, and strength. As the participants stepped through the doors of their temporary test environment, it was like stepping back in time. The radio, the black and white television, the furniture, clothing – were all replicated to that of the bygone era. Notably, the men were encouraged “to be” the people they were 22 years prior and converse as if it was truly 1959 again. She wanted them to discuss their environment in the present tense rather than simply reminisce. They were also treated as if they were younger and were without mirrors, only portraits of their younger selves from the time they arrived.
When the men came out of this five-day psychological intervention, how did they feel? When tested again, they were more flexible, showed greater ability with manual tasks and had improved posture — just as Langer had guessed. Amazingly their sight also improved. The power of the mind over the physical body was highlighted.
Wherever you put the mind, the body will follow
Ellen’s body of work on the illusion of control, mindful ageing, stress, decision-making, and health has resulted in ground-breaking positive psychology concepts. We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with her in real-time; thank you Ellen!
Want to Learn More?
If you would like to dive deeper into the power of autonomy, both Ellen Langer’s work, and self-determination theory, are explored in depth in our Langley Group Institute Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.
To purchase Ellen’s book “Counter Clockwise “head to our shop