Linguistic Agency and Life-Span Longevity

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Abstract

Objectives

Agency has been conceptualized as a drive toward mastery, control, and effective self-management. Such an agentic approach to life and its challenges may be life-prolonging, a hypothesis not previously investigated.

Method

In four studies, individual differences in agency were assessed in terms of the frequency with which agency-related words (e.g., “achieve,” “fix,” and “control”) were mentioned in archived interviews or speeches (N = 210).

Results

Higher levels of linguistic agency predicted longer life-spans among prominent physicists (study 1: n = 60, β = .30, t = 2.30, p = .025), historians (study 2: n = 69, β = .29, t = 2.47, p = .016), psychologists (study 3: n = 45, β = .32, t = 2.35, p = .024), and American presidents (study 4: n = 36, β = .75, t = 2.74, p = .010) when adjusting for birth year. Considered from another angle, life-span longevity averaged 8 years longer at a high (+1 standard deviation) relative to low (−1 standard deviation) level of the linguistic agency continuum, a marked difference. Follow-up analyses indicated that these results could not be attributed to covarying levels of positive emotion, negative emotion, or social connection, as quantified in terms of other linguistic categories.

Conclusions

The investigation provides unique support for agentic perspectives on health, and several potential mechanisms are discussed.

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