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Successful Aging: Perspectives from the Behavioral SciencesŁ (1990) edited by Margret and Paul Baltes is considered a milestone for the perspective renewal of psychological aging research. In this book, the editors substantiated a theoretical model that has ever since convinced scientists with its expanded view on human development in adult and old age. Hitherto gerontological research had concentrated on the reduced capabilities of elder persons. The positive development, by contrast, and mechanisms of compensation for deficits were first by the Baltes put on the research agenda. For many years the two scientists had proved in their own work that the fixation on deficits had led to significant and unjustified narrowing and hence inadvertence to major characteristics of aging. With Successful AgingŁ they presented the theory of Selective optimization with compensation and established the new paradigm in science. According to their theoretical model, human beings compensate for capacity losses by selecting functional areas and resources for successful operations. With experience, social authority and specific aging resources elder people are able to optimize their action and success in their environment.

The achievements of Margret and Paul Baltes stretch well beyond this new view on aging. They made clear that the period of old age needs to be put into the perspective of the whole lifespan. As any phase of individual human development it is characterized by losses and gains. Such gains mark especially the third ageŁ, i.e. approximately the period between 65 and 80 years of age. This refers to higher social and emotional competence, historical and life experience and the ability of pointed use of resources. Elder people thereby not only master their lives successfully and have a positive impact on society but also continue developing as personalities.

Margret Baltes' outstanding work in gerontology has contributed most significantly to scientific progress in the discipline and to enhancing knowledge on matters of psychological aging research. Here one has to mention her research on the appearance, maintenance and modification of dependent behavior of elder people. That research, presented since the mid 1970s, was inspired by learning theories. Margret Baltes specified empirically the key role that the social environment comes to play. She identified patterns of dependency support that are nowadays considered part of the classical canon of psychological gerontology. Her work supported the idea that aging is not determined by regress of biological capabilities but that instead spacial and social conditions are significant factors of influence. The process of aging can be shaped actively. The evidence of high plasticity of behavior in old age was incorporated in changed training programs for care staff whose attention to keeping and sustaining elders' autonomy was promoted.

Further research dealt with everyday competences. Margret Baltes developed an interdisciplinary model and predictors for interindividual differences. She also focused on cognitive plasticity in old age, especially with regard to processes of dementia. With the help of testing the limits she contributed to early diagnostics of dementia and demonstrated the relevance of psychological methods for dementia research.


Paul Baltes became interested in the potential of cognitive functions of adults and in old age at an early stage of his career. His work on cognitive training research demonstrated empirically the chances for cognitive development in adult and old age but also showed its limits. The interest in the potential of old age was the starting point for his psychological research in one of the few positive aging stereotypes (wisdom). He established a new survey model. The results led to relativize the link between wisdom and age However, people do not automatically become wise when they age but such development is a rarely traveled path. Paul Baltes also undertook research on reasons for functional losses. He found evidence that listening, watching and walking demand more cognitive resources with increasing age. More recently, he advocated linking research in behavioral development to analyses of neuronal mechanisms and societal conditions.

Paul Baltes initiated the Berlin Aging Study (BASE) that combines biomedical, psychia-tric and psychological with sociological and economic views on aging. Together with Neil Smelser he edited the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (Elsevier 2001). Paul Baltes launched the International Max Planck Research School The Life Course: Evolutionary and Ontogenetic Dynamics (LIFE) , a common and interdisciplinary doctoral program of the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Humboldt University and Free University of Berlin and the Universities of Michigan and Virginia. The research school is devoted to research on systemic change in human behavior and different time horizons of evolution and ontogenesis. In 2004 Paul Baltes came up with the Max Planck International Research Network on Aging. It is a successful interdisciplinary virtual institute under the participation of the Max Planck Society, the Swedish Karolinska Institute and the University of Virginia. In the same year, he initiated the interdisciplinary working group "Chances and Problems of an aging societyô the world of work and lifelong learning today named Joint Academies Initiative on Aging in Germany. The Initiative is supported by the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the German Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech) and is funded by the Jacobs Foundation.




Paul Baltes pr´┐Żsentiert die erste englischsprachige Ausgabe der Berliner Altersstudie, erschienen 1999 (Aufnahme aus dem Jahr 2000)


Paul Baltes mit einer neuen Auflage der BASE-Studie und der International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, die er zusammen mit Neil Smelser herausgab


Margret Baltes 1987 beim Successful Aging Workshop der European Science Foundation in Schloss Ringberg


Paul Baltes als Direktor am Max-Planck-Institut in Berlin 1998