How Self-Concept is Affected by Physical Changes of Aging

Here we will explore how the changes that occur with older age, including skin, muscle and neurological, will change the self-concept and locus of control for individuals.

Locus of Control

Imagine that you were working for a company, putting in your time and doing a good job, and one day you get a message that says you’re going to receive a promotion. Here’s the question I pose to you: Why did you get the promotion?

The reason I ask is to help you determine your locus of control, which is the reason behind why an individual believes something occurred. I will be shortening the locus of control to ‘LoC’ because that is how a lot of the literature will present it. The locus of control has a lot to do with our self-concept, which is defined as the mental representation of our self. Our LoC and self-concept are how we interpret events around us. They do not necessarily need to be tied to our self-esteem or self-worth, but are a functional part of how we think and see the world.

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Most often you will see the term ‘locus of control’ used with external and internal. Briefly, since this is not where we’re going but it is good to know, external LoC is when things happen because of outside events, like you get the promotion because of luck, or because they needed to promote someone or because of something else external and uncontrollable. What we are most interested in is the internal LoC, which is when things happen because of internal and controllable events, like you are good at your job or you are capable.

I have a point with all of this, and we will get around to aging in a moment. One way we can divide up internal LoC is by specific domains. If you believe you received your promotion because of your amazing looks, then you have an attractiveness LoC. This entails that your looks and appearance are how you control your world. We all knew people like this in high school. If you think you received your promotion because you are strong and physically dominating, you have a physical LoC. Lastly, if your promotion is due to having intellectual and cognitive superiority, you may have an intellectual LoC.

Let us explore what happens to people’s locus of control and self-concept as they age, depending on which of these different types of internal locus of control they have. Do you think all are equal in their changes?

Attractiveness

Those who have attractiveness locus of control will go one of two ways as they age. Some attractiveness LoC will incorporate the aging process with their self-concept and seek to maintain an air of attractiveness along with the changes that come (gray hair, wrinkles, etc.). Some attractiveness LoC are people who can take the changes that come in stride. They will possess a realistic understanding of themselves as they change.

There are those who have attractiveness LoC who will age and suffer for it. Some attractiveness LoC will not incorporate the aging process with their self-concept. What this means is that they will want to look like they’re 20 again. Unfortunately, all the cosmetic surgery, makeup and clothing in the world will not make a 60-year-old look like they’re 20 years old.

These people will suffer lowered self-esteem, increased anxiety (particularly over their looks) and possibly subclinical levels of dissociation. Dissociation is a psychological process in which the awareness is divorced from reality.

Returning to our original question of why you received the promotion, a person with attractiveness LoC would believe that they received the promotion because of the way they looked. This makes sense if the person is a model or actor, but it makes less sense if the person is a firefighter or engineer. Regardless of the occupation, this type of control focuses on a person’s attractiveness.

Physical

The physical body undergoes changes that include a weakening of the muscles, a thinning of bones and a reduction in reflexes. A person is just not as physically powerful in their 60s and 70s as they were in their 20s. Physical LoC cannot incorporate the aging process.

A person with physical LoC will have increasing depression and stress because they are unable to feel as if they are in control of the situation. This results in a deterioration of their self-concept because everything they know was pulled out from underneath them.

Often a physical LoC has learned to use their physical abilities as social interactions. This is often seen in criminal populations where ‘might means right.’ As this population ages, they are forced to either submit to the next most physically dominant individual or change the way they look at the world. It is often a toss-up, with some continuing to fight and lose in their old age, while others change and alter the way they see the world.

Back to our original question of the promotion, a person with a physical LoC who works in a heavily physical position, like firefighter or shipping, likely has a physical component to their promotion. A person who works in academia or upper management, though, who focuses on their physique, might have some problems as they attempt to interpret the world through pure physical control.

Intellectual

Intellectual can be best, for a time at least. Intellectual LoC is the least affected by physical changes. A person who prides themselves on their intelligence will likely not care for a few grays or a reduction in their muscle tone. They might be affected by these signs of aging, which indicates the LoC is not 100%. But an intellectual LoC is capable of surviving fairly intact as outward physical changes occur.

The flipside is that the brain does undergo physical and processing changes as we age. The speed at which a person can process new information and the ease that it can be learned are all deteriorating as we age. Loss of processing speeds can be difficult to incorporate. Now younger people are able to pick up the same information faster and better than them, leaving the aging intellectual in the dust. This can also cause an increase in stress, depression and anxiety about one’s self-identity.

In regards to our promotion question, a person who is in a job where production is more important will likely have difficulty. I worked at a pizza parlor, and it didn’t matter how smart I thought I was, I wouldn’t get a promotion for thinking up new pizza combinations. It only mattered about production and consistency. However, while I work here, the higher intelligence of my work gets me more lessons.

Lesson Summary

Self-concept is defined as the mental representation of our self. An aspect of self-concept is the locus of control, which is the reason behind why an individual believes something occurred. It is often divided into two large categories, external and internal. We have divided up the internal category into three components: attractiveness, physical and intellectual. Each of these will suffer with the aging process but some more than others.

Learning Outcomes

After completion of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define self-concept and locus of control (LoC)
  • Discuss aging and the locus of control at the physical, intellectual and attractiveness levels
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