Activity Theory of Aging

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Activity Theory of Aging
Long Island University-C.W. Post Campus
Jennifer L. Bifulco

Throughout this semester we have come across many psychological and social theories. From Vaillant’s aging well, to Erikson’s life stages, to Leont’ev’s activity theory, there is a lot to learn and to understand. For the purpose of this paper, I am going to focus on the Activity Theory of aging. After some thorough research on this topic I was able to come up with some great information about this theory that I will incorporate into this paper and make you understand the theory that way that I understand it.

Activity Theory (AT) was initially developed by Leont’ev during the twentieth century in the former Soviet Union (Leont’ev, 1978; Leont’ev, 1981a, 1981b). Leont’ev sought to understand human activities. Activity theory is dynamic. It can be used by a variety of disciplines to understand the way people act. The idea behind many programs and services for older adults is that activities have important benefits and that they contribute to increased life satisfaction for everyone. According to an article written in the Journal of Computer Science and Technology, activity is defined as the way a subject (either an individual or a group) moves towards an object with the purpose of getting certain results. Activity objects can be a concrete thing (such as a program) or something more abstract like an idea. When individuals engage and interact with their environment, the result is the production of tools. Tools can be used to understand the object or to improve the communication and motivation of the activity participants. Leont’ev pointed out that people engage in actions that do no satisfy a need by themselves, but they do contribute towards the eventual satisfaction of a need. Participation in an activity is performing conscious actions that have an immediate and defined goal. Actions turn into operations when they become routine and unconscious. According to a study done by Lee and Markides, it was hypothesized that all three types of activity would be associated with a person’s life satisfaction. A test of this hypothesis was done using data collected in a retirement community. It was found that there was an association only between informal activity with friends and life satisfaction. Many older adults explain their longevity in terms of their continuous high activity levels. AT suggests that people give up many roles as they age. They retire from work, become widows or widowers, drop out of professional organizations, leave clubs and unions, and so on. The changes challenge the ideas that people hold about themselves. They may create a reduced sense of identity and they may destroy the strength of their inner self. For this reason continued role participation is necessary for successful adjustment in old age. Professionals advise older adults to keep active in order to maintain their health (Reich, Zautra, and Hill, 1987). AT has been an important part of gerontological thought for more than fifty years. The AT influenced researchers in the field of social gerontology during the 1940’s (Longino and Kart, 1982). AT is not a “theory” in the strict interpretation of the word. It actually consists of a set of basic principles, which make up a system that can be used as a foundation for more specific theories. There are five basic principles of Activity Theory. These principles consist of; object-orientedness, internalization/externalization, mediation, hierarchical structure of activity, and development. Object-orientedness means that human beings live in a reality, which is objective. The things that make up this reality have not only the properties, which are seen as goals, but socially/culturally-defined properties as well. The Internalization/externalization principle deals with the impression of mental processes compared to internal activities. AT states that...
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