Ellen Langer in 1979 and today
In 1979, Prof Langer conducted an experiment. Prof Langer recruited a group of elderly men all in their late 70s or 80s. They were not told they were taking part in a study into ageing, an experiment that would transport them 20 years back in time.The men were split into two groups. They would both be spending a week at a retreat outside of Boston.But while the first group, the control, really would be reminiscing about life in the 50s, the other half would be in a timewarp. Surrounded by props from the 50s the experimental group would be asked to act as if it was actually 1959. They watched films, listened to music from the time and had discussions about Castro marching on Havana and the latest Nasa satellite launch - all in the present tense. And she was determined to remove any prompt for them to behave as anything but healthy individuals. They weren't being treated as incompetent or sick.
But Prof Langer took physiological measurements both before and after the week and found the men improved across the board. Their gait, dexterity, arthritis, speed of movement, cognitive abilities and their memory was all measurably improved.Their blood pressure dropped and, even more surprisingly, their eyesight and hearing got better. Both groups showed improvements, but the experimental group improved the most.Prof Langer believes that by encouraging the men's minds to think younger their bodies followed and actually became "younger".