Social context, stress, and plasticity of aging

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Positive social contact is an important factor in healthy aging, but our understanding of how social interactions influence senescence is incomplete. As life expectancy continues to increase because of reduced death rates among elderly, the beneficial role of social relationships is emerging as a cross-cutting theme in research on aging and healthspan. There is a need to improve knowledge on how behavior shapes, and is shaped by, the social environment, as well as needs to identify and study biological mechanisms that can translate differences in the social aspects of behavioral efforts, relationships, and stress reactivity (the general physiological and behavioral response-pattern to harmful, dangerous or unpleasant situations) into variation in aging. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) provide a genetic model in sociobiology, behavioral neuroscience, and gerontology that is uniquely sensitive to social exchange. Different behavioral contact between these social insects can shorten or extend lifespan more than 10-fold, and some aspects of their senescence are reversed by social cues that trigger aged individuals to express youthful repertoires of behavior. Here, I summarize how variation in social interactions contributes to this plasticity of aging and explain how beneficial and detrimental roles of social relationships can be traced from environmental and biological effects on honey bee physiology and behavior, to the expression of recovery-related plasticity, stress reactivity, and survival during old age. This system provides intriguing opportunities for research on aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-27
Number of pages10
JournalAging Cell
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Aging reversal
  • Honey bee
  • Insulin-like peptides
  • Recovery-related plasticity
  • Social contact
  • Stress reactivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Cell Biology


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