January 16, 2004

Too Old to be Careless

FuturePundit.com: Will Eternal Youthfulness Lead To Less Ambition?

I encountered this discussion about whether life extension will produce less ambitious people (originating in another relevant discussion, on whether longer lives will make people more risk aversive) shortly after discussing in another medium about the personality traits that promote longevity.

It seems from my perspective that personality might be the key factor determining long-term longevity of people even given radical medical treatments (let's say full nanomedicine).

First, let's explore the current impact of personality on longevity.

It is known that positive perceptions of ageing promotes longevity. People with more positive self-perceptions of aging, measured up
to 23 years earlier, lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self- perceptions of aging (Becca R. Levy, Martin D. Slade, Suzanne R. Kunkel, Stanislav V. Kasl,
Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging
, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, August 2002); they appear to have a strong "will to live" factor that decreases mortality.

Helping others might also be beneficial (Brown SL, Nesse RM, Vinokur AD, Smith DM., Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: results from a prospective study of mortality, Psychol Sci. 2003 Jul;14(4):320-7): the mortality was halved among caregivers. Beside the altruist feel-good factor, there might also be a responsibility factor. In a classic study nursing home residents were either given a talk on personal responsibility and a plant to care for, or a talk about how the staff would care for them and a plant the staff would care for. The result was a 50% reduction of mortality in the responsible group, as well as increases in alertness, active participation, and a general sense of well-being (this might not be relevant to just nursing homes and life extension, but to societies too!).

The "Big Five" personality factors have been studied in relation to longevity (and everything else for that matter). According to Eamonn Ferguson high conscientiousness is related to better health and longevity, whereas low agreeableness and high neuroticism seem to be health risk factors (perhaps due to stress). The size of the conscientiousness positive effect is equivalent to blood pressure and cholesterol on longevity. He suggests risk avoidance and health promoting behaviours as a main cause - conscientous people keep healthy, eat good food and don't drive drunk.

Of course, some of this might be due to lack of longitudinal studies. What if personality changes over lifetime? Traditionally personality is assumed to be fairly fixed, but that might be just folk psychology and people explaining away gradual shifts of personality in themselves and others away from their templates of "who they really are". A study (Sanjay Srivastava, Oliver P. John, Samuel D. Gosling, Jeff Potter,
Development of Personality in Early and Middle Adulthood: Set Like Plaster or Persistent Change?
, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 84, No. 5.) shows quite a bit of drift of personality over time: conscientousness and agreeableness increases, while female neuroticism decreases (eventually reaching the male mean).

But this was no longitudinal study. So maybe we are just seeing the survivors? But the increase in conscientousness is positive already below 30, and agreeableness starts to grow after 30, at times where few have had the time to die of old age. While there might be some tricky selection effect, it seems reasonable to conclude that personality does change over lifespan. As we grow older we on average grow up: we become more conscientous and agreeable (at least up to 55+, where agreableness starts to dip - old and grumpy), women learn to relax.

So, to sum things up: there are perceptions, behaviors and personality that promote longevity and reduces mortality. Quite a few of them are individually changeable too, but usually change slowly unless external conditions force change. The "ideal" for a long-lived person would be somebody looking forward to ageing, who takes responsibility for their own life and their environment, acts conscientously and in a positive way without getting stressed.

Of course, this might be just personality traits that promote it today, and using advanced technology one's state of mind has less effect than one's medical treatment. But personality still determines what treatments we seek. This can be a huge difference. There are notable differences in health and longevity between social classes in most societies, even when the material affluence levels are so high that they could get about the same kind of treatment. While there are many factors, personality and learned behavior appears to play a key role: the higher the class, the more future oriented people are, the more disposed to care for themselves and believe they can achieve whatever they set out to do (a positive outlook that seems to fit well with longevity in itself). And this helps them care for their health and make sure they get good treatments when at the doctor.

So it seems reasonable that highly conscientous, dynamic people would get themselves life extending lifestyles and treatments. There is going to be a kind of filter effect against people with learned helplessness when significant life extension treatments arrive: even if they can afford them, they will not go for them as strongly. This would likely act as a filter on "the last mortal generation": the survivors will not be similar to the average. The generation after that is likely to survive regardless of personality (and class; it seems unlikely that such a killer app as radical life extension would remain costly and elitist unless the price could artificially be inflated through extreme regulations and certifications, or the need for much skilled manpower).

Now we have a population of long-lived or emortal people. The main causes of death will be accidents or suicide.

Suicide will correspond to people lacking the will to live but with sufficient volition (and cultural support) to end their lives; if we assume that psychological treatments of depression are good it seems likely that few will suicide out of other reasons, and people without the will to live but insufficient motivation to end it (the classic ennui case) might be helped out of either of the problems.

Accidents would be people taking risks. Clearly, adventure-seeking people will be at a higher risk (especially if they are driven to not just have adventure but the special thrill of real danger - there is a difference between an exhillarating experience that is actually very safe thanks to technology even if it once was risky, and an experience that is still risky). Survival curves are exponential in this emortal situation, with a time constant set by expected time to accidents. This means that there will be a constant filtering of the truly risk-taking individuals and if we just look at a single generation this will eventually become mostly non-risk takers. It should be noted that new risktakers are born, so there will be a steady trickle of accidents waiting to happen (unless mental technology or cultural influence is able to reduce the risk-taking behavior).

This sounds like a very stable and staid future. Maybe not extremely risk averse, but not a particularly wild place. On the other hand, this assumes that the conscientous people remain conscientous all the time. Most reasoning about psychology of immortals assume that personality remains fixed or slowly evolves due to surrounding constraints. But in a very safe, relatively stable society there may be evolutionary drift: as the years pass and nothing dangerous happens, the level of acceptable risk may change. One pathway might be perceived risk. If I have done something a hundred times I think I know it and can control the possible variations of the situation, and I will tend to reduce my risk estimates. This would make people grow slightly less cautious, especially if their bodies and minds were otherwise energetic and healthy. Boredom can drive people to the most surprising changes. But even long time and random drift of personality could cause the same changes. In a large population there would always be some risk-takers.

It should be noted that if the society is rapidly changing, then being risk-aversive could be detrimental if new possibilities are opening up: those will be grabbed by the more ambitious and risk-taking individuals. On the other hand, if it is more chaos (i.e. more new bad possibilities), the selection will go the other way.

This drift possibility will be countered if certain aspects of personality are self-reinforcing, especially given mental technology that enables desired changes. An obvious case would be ambition: as an ambitious person one is motivated to keep this ambition (limited only by realism). A more subtle case would be lack of ambition and motivation: this inertia would of course not cause any change, but here other factors need to be taken into account to see whether it is actually self-reinforcing (if social standing is negatively affected by this inertia, this might cause self-reinforcing learned helplessness). A risk-averse person would not necessarily wish to remain risk-aversive, although he might choose a less radical increase of risk acceptance than a risk-accepting person would. Again, other factors are likely needed to cause self-reinfocement (such as the rewards of change).

It is interesting to look at the curves of the Srivastava et al. study. Conscientousness could be self-reinforcing: being orderly and organized could make a person place himself in more orderly situations, where it is more appreciated/rrewarded and so on. But again, it could just be a self-limiting process of learning.

It is notable that variance of personaliy and cognitive measures increase as we age - ageing is highly individual (which makes sense if it is due to lack of selection in old age). This might imply that the personalities of people would also fiverge more and more. Life extension might fix the purely biological aspects, but it seems likely that at least some of this variance increase is self-reinforcement or drift.

In the end, the answer to the questions "do we become risk averse or less ambitious" as immortals still remains unclear. But it seems apparent that we will likely be more risk averse, but perhaps not in the fearful manner often imagined but rather in a more conscientous and rational manner. Extroversion is more linked with risk-taking, and that did not show any strong change over lifespan. And given that ambition correlates with conscientousness, maybe we will become more ambitious as we age with constant energy.

Imagine the combination of life experience, skills, ambition and the energy of having a 25 year old body! The problem might not be cautious elders living in ennui, but too many wise doers (like Lindsay in Sterling's Schismatrix) reshaping the world.

Posted by Anders at January 16, 2004 11:19 AM

200ns a includes You'll.

Posted by: father son incest at August 2, 2004 08:43 PM

these making function, loan..

Posted by: rape sites at August 2, 2004 08:43 PM

to it three-part reports.

Posted by: goat sex at August 2, 2004 08:43 PM

they I scanning you.

Posted by: incest taboo at August 2, 2004 08:43 PM

a be of a.

Posted by: free incest storys at August 2, 2004 08:43 PM

Animation distributions. than a.

Posted by: rape xxx at August 2, 2004 08:43 PM

today. to for no.

Posted by: rape and torture at August 2, 2004 08:43 PM

comes not advice. of.

Posted by: animal porn samples at August 2, 2004 08:43 PM

for up device portable.

Posted by: penis penis donkey at August 2, 2004 08:43 PM

Unix and systems read..

Posted by: incest forums at August 3, 2004 12:06 AM

installing they're of platform-specific.

Posted by: rape sex stories at August 3, 2004 12:06 AM

into the he of.

Posted by: beastiality movies at August 3, 2004 12:06 AM

do we're to the.

Posted by: father daughter incest at August 3, 2004 12:06 AM

Cinelerra Clancy worry Cinelerra's.

Posted by: mom son incest at August 3, 2004 12:06 AM

sftp variables running victim's.

Posted by: naked housewives brunette at August 3, 2004 12:06 AM

directory. that a it.

Posted by: porno rape fetish at August 3, 2004 12:06 AM

the the weight G5s.

Posted by: lover brunette cats at August 3, 2004 12:06 AM

side and a This.

Posted by: free beastiality galleries at August 3, 2004 12:06 AM