Ellen Langer

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Ellen Langer
Ellen Langer.jpg
Born (1947-03-25) March 25, 1947 (age 71)
Bronx, New York
Occupation Psychology professor

Ellen Jane Langer (born March 25, 1947) is a professor of psychology at Harvard University; in 1981, she became the first woman ever to be tenured in psychology at Harvard.[1][2] Langer studies the illusion of control, decision-making, aging, and mindfulness theory.[2] Her most influential work is Counterclockwise, published in 2009, which answers the questions of aging from her extensive research, and increased interest in the particulars of aging across the nation.

Early life and education[edit]

Langer was born in The Bronx, New York. She received her bachelor's degree in Psychology from New York University, and her PhD in Social and Clinical Psychology from Yale University in 1974.[1]


Langer has had a significant influence on the positive psychology movement.[3] She has published over 200 articles and academic texts, was published in The New York Times, and discussed her works on Good Morning America.[1] Additionally, in many introductory psychology courses at universities across the United States, her studies are required reading.[3]


Langer and colleagues conducted multiple forms of research to promote the flexibility of aging.[3] One study showed that rewarding behaviors and following completion of memory tasks improves memory. Another study showed that simply taking care of a plant improves mental and physical health, as well as life expectancy.[4] These studies were the primitive steps to creating the Langer Mindfulness Scale.[citation needed] Her research provided for improved methods in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Additionally, in one of her most famous studies, Langer found it was possible to lower obesity and diabetes in chambermaids by calling their everyday activity “exercise” rather than “labor.” [5]


Langer is well known for her contributions to the study of mindfulness and of mindless behaviour, with these contributions having provided the basis for many studies focused on individual differences in unconscious behavior and decision making processes in humans.[6] In 1989, she published Mindfulness, her first book, and some have referred to her as the "mother of mindfulness".[7][8] In an interview with Krista Tippett on the National Public Radio program "On Being," broadcast on Sept. 13, 2015, Langer defined mindfulness as "the simple act of noticing new things." [5] The Langer Mindfulness Scale is still used in modern research.


In 1980, she was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.[8] Other honors include the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest of the American Psychological Association, the Distinguished Contributions of Basic Science to Applied Psychology award from the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology, the James McKeen Cattel Award, and the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize.


Her finding that taking care of a plant significantly improved health outcomes in nursing home patients was shown to be the result of a statistical error.[9] In one of her famous "counterclockwise" studies, Langer claimed that when elderly men were temporarily placed in a setting that recreated their past, their health improved, and they even looked younger. However, this study was never published in a peer-reviewed journal. The only publication of this finding is in a chapter of a book edited by Langer.[10]

In a 2014 New York Times Magazine profile, Langer described the week-long paid adult counterclockwise retreats she was creating in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, aimed towards replicating the effects found in her New Hampshire study. According to the article, "Langer makes no apologies for the paid retreats, nor for what will be their steep price."[11] Langer was defiant when pressed on the ethics of her study:

"To my question of whether such a nakedly commercial venture will undermine her academic credibility, Langer rolled her eyes a bit. 'Look, I’m not 40 years old. I’ve paid my dues, and there’s nothing wrong with making this more widely available to people, since I deeply believe it.'"[12]

Bibliography (selection)[edit]

  • Langer, Ellen J. (1989). Mindfulness. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley. ISBN 0-201-52341-8. 
  • Langer, Ellen J. (1997). The Power of Mindful Learning. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-33991-9. 
  • Langer, Ellen J. (2005). On Becoming an Artist. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-45629-7. 
  • Langer, Ellen J. (2009). Counter clockwise: mindful health and the power of possibility. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-50204-9. 


  1. ^ a b c Hilts, Philip J (23 September 1997). "Scientist At Work: Ellen Langer; A Scholar of the Absent Mind". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Feinberg, Cara (2010). "The Mindfulness Chronicles". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Bennett, Drake (21 February 2010). "Mind Power". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  4. ^ Rodin, Judith; Langer, Ellen J. (1977). "Long-term effects of a control-relevant intervention with the institutionalized aged". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 35 (12): 897–902. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.35.12.897. PMID 592095. 
  5. ^ a b "Ellen Langer - Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness". On Being with Krista Tippett. Retrieved September 11, 2015. 
  6. ^ Scholar, Harvard. "Ellen Langer, Research". scholar.harvard.edu. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  7. ^ PsychCentral. "The Mother of Mindfulness, Ellen Langer". psychcentral.com. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Langer, Ellen. "Ellen Langer Bio". ellenlanger.com. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "Rodin, J., & Langer, E. J. (1978). Erratum to Rodin and Langer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(5), 462." 
  10. ^ "Ellen Langer's reversing aging experiment - Business Insider". 
  11. ^ "What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?". 
  12. ^ "What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?". 

External links[edit]