In 1981, a curiously profound experience took place in a converted monastery in New Hampshire. Psychologist Ellen Langer brought together eight men in their 70s to embody their earlier selves in an setting designed to evoke the year 1959. For five days, the men treated 1959 as their present. Before arriving, the men were assessed on such measures as manual dexterity, flexibility, hearing and vision, memory and cognition. At the end of the five days, the outcomes were remarkable, ranging from greater manual dexterity to improved eyesight. The findings were also small scale and framed by a research design so unorthodox as to be quite possibly unpublishable. Dr. Langer never attempted to submit the study to journals.
Nevertheless, Dr. Langer’s groundbreaking work on the mind-body relationship is part of a swelling chorus of researchers and scientists demanding that we adjust our understanding of the relationship between people and their health. The study of human factors like perception, cognition, motivation, decision making, trust, truth, respect, and cultural context is directly challenging our existing methodologies for how we learn about ourselves.
The world needs more creative research designers like Dr. Langer.
Ellen Langer at PopTech