Scientists Seek Sense of Balance

President John F. Kennedy's famous White House secretary Evelyn Lincoln described her key to maintaining intellectual vitality 21 years ago: "It's not who you are, but who you associate with that's important in life," she told a Detroit Free Press reporter.1 Although Lincoln was describing a philosophy of deep involvement with family, learning, and career--a career that kept her life enriched through a series of fascinating relationships with power figures--her philosophy now is gaining new cre

Arielle Emmett
Feb 4, 2001

President John F. Kennedy's famous White House secretary Evelyn Lincoln described her key to maintaining intellectual vitality 21 years ago: "It's not who you are, but who you associate with that's important in life," she told a Detroit Free Press reporter.1 Although Lincoln was describing a philosophy of deep involvement with family, learning, and career--a career that kept her life enriched through a series of fascinating relationships with power figures--her philosophy now is gaining new credence in scientific observations of the elderly. What, after all, keeps a human mind active and vital throughout life, even into the seventh, eighth, and ninth decades?

One answer, researchers find, is a rich network of social interactions and commitments. These include satisfying contact and "bi-directional" engagement in community, children, relatives, and friends--people helping people, communicating effectively and participating in complex interpersonal exchanges. Recent research in Sweden and the United States suggests that...

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