“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.Albert Szent – Gyorgyi
What exactly is the SPAN Study?
It all started in late 2006 with a relatively simple set of questions. First, what is the trajectory of maladaptive personality traits in later life? And second, in what ways do those traits have an impact on the success with which people navigate important transitions and experiences that commonly occur to older adults?
Our study examines connections among personality traits, social adjustment, self-report of physical and subjective health, and objective measures of immune system functioning in a sample of participants approaching the challenges of later life. A primary goal of the SPAN study is to identify the extent to which personality and personality problems influence the ability to adapt successfully to important life transitions, such as retirement, the onset of serious health problems, or the loss of a spouse.
Participants in the SPAN Study include a representative sample of over 1,600 adults living in the St. Louis area. Baseline assessments included a semi-structured interview as well as various personality and psychosocial questionnaires. For each participant, one informant (most often a spouse or other family member) completed the personality questionnaires. Follow-up assessments of personality and personality problems, social functioning, and marital adjustment, as well as physical and mental health, are also being conducted at regular intervals. Data from this project are helping us understand the impact of personality and biology on health and social adjustment over the lifespan (see list of publications from this study).
Another primary goal of the SPAN study is to determine how informant-reported assessments of personality can inform us about the health and well-being of our participants. Most knowledge of personality is based on evidence obtained from self-report measures. Unfortunately, there is only a modest correlation between the ways in which people describe themselves and the ways in which they are perceived by others. The SPAN study is exploring discrepancies between self-report and informant measures in the assessment of personality and personality disorders. We are studying ways in which people see themselves, ways in which they are seen by other people, and their beliefs about what other people think of them. In this way, the SPAN study lies directly at the intersection between basic science and clinical research. Our research depends heavily on methods and concepts developed by investigators studying interpersonal perception.