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Notthoff N, Drewelies J, Kazanecka P, Steinhagen-Thiessen E, Norman K, Düzel S, Daumer M, Lindenberger U, Demuth I

The huge inter-individual differences in how people age have prompted researchers to examine whether people’s own perception of how old they are-their subjective age—could be a better predictor of relevant outcomes than their actual chronological age. Indeed, how old people feel does predict mortality hazards, and health-related measures such as walking speed may account for this association. In the present study, we extended this line of work by investigating whether subjective age also predicts walking speed and running speed in daily life or whether the predictive effects of subjective age for behavior manifest only within a controlled performance situation. We used data from 80 older participants (age range 62–82 years; M = 69.50, SD = 4.47) from the Berlin Aging Study II (BASE-II). Subjective age was assessed by self-report. Walking speed in the laboratory was measured with the Timed Up and Go test, and walking speed and running speed in real life were measured with an accelerometer. Results showed that compared to participants who felt older, those who felt younger than they actually were indeed walked faster in the laboratory, but they did not walk or run faster in real life. These patterns of results held when age, gender, education, BMI, comorbidity, depression, physical activity, and cognition were covaried. We discuss the role of stereotype threat in accounting for these results.