History of the Study
A Unique Resource
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is the longest in-depth examination of adult life ever conducted. Started just after the Great Depression and continuing to this day, the Study began by following 724 men from diverse socio-economic backgrounds for 8 decades, then expanded to include their spouses, and recently expanded again to include more than 1,300 of their Baby-Boomer children. With the lowest dropout rate of any long-term longitudinal study in history, the Harvard Study is a unique and precious resource for understanding adult psychological and physical development across generations.
The Study findings have made major contributions to our understanding of human life. Psychiatrists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and criminologists have generated nine books and more than 200 scientific papers from Study data, informing how we think about fundamental problems such as alcoholism, depression, stress, and marital difficulties. The Lifespan Research Foundation (LRF), has dramatically increased the distribution of the Study findings to millions of people and organized these findings into a framework for learning. The joint mission of The Harvard Study and LRF is “to promote and use lifespan research to enable people to live healthier lives filled with meaning, connection, and purpose.”
The Importance of the Study
Why is Lifespan research so important, so powerful, and authoritative? Most of what we know about human life, we know either from asking people to remember the past or taking snapshots of lives at single moments in time. These approaches often lead us astray. Why? First, because our memories are fallible. Looking back on our lives, we see cause-and-effect relationships that sometimes turn out to be false. And second, snapshots by their very nature leave enormous gaps in our understanding. If we just take a snapshot of human behavior at a particular moment (which is what most research does), it is hard to make valid connections between what happened in an earlier stage in life and what happened later. Being able to engage with individuals from the time they are teenagers until the end of life is unprecedented. We can watch their stories unfold and learn from how they navigate through life stages. This kind of in-depth understanding of generations of families over time is a real advantage over other types of research and very rare.
In its 9th decade, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a unique and precious resource for understanding adult psychological and physical development across generations, continues its voyage of discovery, working with its treasure trove of data and fueling the Lifespan Research Foundation with knowledge to enable people to live healthier lives filled with meaning, connection, and purpose.
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