Mindfulness and the Psychology of Possibility

October 29, 2010




If we could turn back the clock psychologically, could we also turn it back physically? For more than thirty years, Dr. Ellen Langer has studied this provocative question, and now has a conclusive answer: opening our minds to what’s possible, instead of clinging to accepted notions about what’s not, can lead to better health at any age. Drawing on her own body of experiments—including the landmark 1979 “counterclockwise” study in which elderly men lived for a week as though it was 1959 and seemed to grow younger—and important works by other researchers, she will demonstrate how we mindlessly react to cultural cues and how this impacts our health, happiness, and wellbeing. This talk will also show how we can actively challenge these ingrained behaviors by making subtle changes in our everyday lives. Langer will describe ways to reorient our attitudes and language in order to achieve better health; show ways in which our belief in physical limits constrains us; and demonstrate how our desire for certainty in medical diagnosis and treatment often prevents us from fully exploiting the power of uncertainty.


Dr. Ellen Langer received her PhD in social and clinical psychology from Yale University in 1974, and is currently a professor in the Psychology Department at Harvard University. Langer has described her work on the illusion of control, aging, decision-making, and mindfulness theory in over 200 research articles and 11 academic books. Her work has led to numerous academic honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest of the American Psychological Association, the Distinguished Contributions of Basic Science to Applied Psychology award from the American Association of Applied & Preventive Psychology, the Adult Development and Aging Distinguished Research Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association, the James McKeen Cattel Award, and the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize. Langer is also a Fellow of the Sloan Foundation; the American Psychological Association; the American Psychological Society; the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Computers and Society; the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues; and the Society of Experimental Social Psychologists. In addition to other honors, the BBC recently completed a series on her work, and a movie based on her life starring Jennifer Aniston is currently in production.

Host/Chair: Matthew S. Goodwin

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