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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