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George E. Vaillant
Copyright Date: 1977
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 416
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Between 1939 and 1942, one of America's leading universities recruited 268 of its healthiest and most promising undergraduates to participate in a revolutionary new study of the human life cycle. George Vaillant, director of this study, took the measure of the Grant Study men. The result was the compelling, provocative classic, Adaptation to Life, which poses fundamental questions about the individual differences in confronting life's stresses.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-07215-2
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface, 1995
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. Cast of Protagonists
    (pp. xiv-xviii)
  5. PART ONE: The Study of Mental Health:: Methods and Illustrations

    • Introduction
      (pp. 3-12)

      In 1937 a philanthropist, William T. Grant, met with the director of a university health service, Arlie V. Bock, M.D., and together they decided that medical research was too weighted in the direction of disease. They agreed that “Large endowments have been given and schemes put into effect for the study of the ill, the mentally and physically handicapped…. Very few have thought it pertinent to make a systematic inquiry into the kinds of people who are well and do well.”¹ As a result, the philanthropist and the health service director agreed to select a small but healthy sample of...

    • Chapter 1 Mental Health
      (pp. 13-29)

      What is mental health?

      I submit that health is adaptation, and adaptation is quite the opposite of the quote from Mr. Eliot. If you have not the strength to accept the terms life offers you, you must, in self-defense, force your own terms upon it. If either you or your environment is distorted too much in the process, your effort at adaptation may be labeled mental illness.

      This book will examine specific ways in which men alter themselves and the world around them in order to adapt to life. The examples will be concrete; and, as I have indicated in...

    • Chapter 2 The Men of the Grant Study
      (pp. 30-40)

      If the lives of specially selected college sophomores are to illustrate how human beings adapt to life, then the reader must know how they were chosen and how they compare with human beings in general. In all, 268 men were originally chosen, 66 from the classes of 1939 to 1941 and 202 from a seven percent sample taken from the classes of 1942 to 1944. The process of selection varied slightly from year to year, but ninety percent of the sample was chosen in the following fashion:

      About forty percent of each class was arbitrarily excluded because there was some...

    • Chapter 3 How They Were Studied
      (pp. 41-52)

      The Grant Study of Adult Development vies with Berkeley’s Oakland Growth Study for the distinction of being the longest prospective follow-up of adult development in the world. Set off by itself in a small brick building, the Study was a warm and friendly place; the staff, from the secretaries to the medical director, were kind and receptive, not analytic and austere. The Grant Study subjects were examined with their full consent and awareness, but they could not volunteer — a condition that helped exclude the quirks of would-be guinea pigs. Because the men were chosen on the grounds of mental...

    • Chapter 4 Health Redefined The Joyful Expression of Sex and of Anger
      (pp. 53-72)

      In the first chapter, Tarrytown’s absence of mental health seemed linked with his inability to express anger and sexuality. Yet, since many of society’s taboos are directed toward keeping people from being too lustful or too angry, should not mental health reflect the control of these two troublesome instincts? It is not that simple. When Freud was asked for a definition of mental health, he replied that health was the capacity to work and to love. By showing how healthy coping mechanisms harness sex and aggression in the service of working and loving, this chapter will try to resolve the...

  6. PART TWO: Basic Styles of Adaptation

    • Chapter 5 Adaptive Ego Mechanisms A Hierarchy
      (pp. 75-90)

      In examining the adaptive styles of the six men looked at so far, I have already described several ego mechanisms. I have suggested that Mr. Goodhart’s altruism and sublimation were more adaptive than Dr. Tarrytown’s dissociation and projection. Dr. Smythe’s passive aggression seemed less effective than Mr. Byron’s anticipation, and Mr. Lamb’s fantasy led to loneliness while Mr. Lion’s sublimation was intrinsic to his loving. The intent of this chapter will be to organize eighteen such mechanisms into a formal framework. I do this both to facilitate understanding of the rest of the book and to provide a possible scheme...

    • Chapter 6 Sublimation
      (pp. 91-104)

      The task of a successful defense is to resolve conflict. As the lives of the Grant Study men illustrated, ideal resolution is never achieved by sweeping distress under the rug, nor by arbitrary compromise between instinct and conscience, or by cowardly purchase of intimacy with masochistic sacrifice. No, the sign of a successful defense is neither careful cost accounting nor shrewd compromise, but rather synthetic and creative transmutation. John Keats conveys a miraculous concept: “More happy, happy love! / Forever warm and still to be enjoyed.” With a control of language that defies description, he turned lust, perhaps even imminent...

    • Chapter 7 Suppression, Anticipation, Altruism, and Humor
      (pp. 105-126)

      Adaptation to life means continued growth. If some styles of coping are to be judged relatively healthy, they must contribute to the continued development of the individual. There were six men who were seen as psychologically very sound in college but who subsequently made poor adult adjustments; all used many immature defenses. Conversely, four men perceived as psychologically very vulnerable in college enjoyed excellent life adjustments; all of these men used predominantly mature defenses.

      The example of Grant Study subject Mayor Timothy Jefferson illustrates the interrelationship between mature adaptation and continued growth, for Jefferson was a man who improved and...

    • Chapter 8 The Neurotic Defenses
      (pp. 127-157)

      Perhaps Freud’s most original contribution was not his realization that feelings, not ideas, underlay mental illness. Perhaps it was not his discovery that dreams could reflect our lives and that unconscious feelings could govern them: poets had known all this for centuries, if not millenia. Rather, Freud transformed nineteenth-century psychology when he showed us that unusual human behavior could be compensatory and adaptive rather than immoral or deranged. In his 1894 essay “The Neuro-Psychoses of Defense,” Freud suggested that feelings could be ingeniously separated from their ideas, their owners, and their objects.¹ The result of such defensive manipulation of feeling...

    • Chapter 9 The Immature Defenses
      (pp. 158-192)

      The modes of adaptation that underlie the neuroses are as distressing to the owner and as insignificant to the observer as a run in a stocking or a stone in a shoe. In contrast, the immature defenses seem as harmless to the owner and as unbearably gross to the observer as a passion for strong cigars or garlic cooking. The immature defenses include fantasy, projection, masochism (passive aggression), hypochondriasis, and acting out. Psychiatrists often assign the pejorative label of character disorder to the users of these mechanisms. They regard such individuals as unmotivated for treatment and impervious to recovery. In...

  7. PART THREE: Developmental Consequences of Adaptation

    • Chapter 10 The Adult Life Cycle In One Culture
      (pp. 195-236)

      The first point to be made about the adult life cycle is that, as in childhood, the metamorphosis of aging alters belief systems, instinctual expression, memory, even the brain; indeed, the passage of time renders truth itself relative.

      One Grant Study man had said of America’s growing hostility toward Germany, “I feel extremely disheartened. The war in Europe is none of our business.” The date was October 1941. Nevertheless, in the winter of 1966–67, he subscribed fully to Lyndon Johnson’s military policies, and condemned his sons for publicly demonstrating against American involvement in Vietnam. He could only recollect his...

    • Chapter 11 Paths into Health
      (pp. 237-258)

      Without hesitation or judgment, we can accept the spontaneous recovery of children from measles, but we regard an adult’s recovery from mental illness in quite a different fashion. Sometimes mental illness is seen as a sign of moral weakness; other times it becomes an insidious malady that only proper treatment can cure. In the former case, we prescribe punishment or the exercise of conscious willpower; in the latter case, we prescribe psychiatrists, shamans, or tranquilizers. If these two courses are impractical, we often regard mental illness as reflecting some indelible defect in character, from which remissions are as miraculous as...

    • Chapter 12 Successful Adjustment
      (pp. 259-283)

      At sixteen, I remember almost walking out of the film version of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh played the leads, and I was appalled by Brando’s Stanley Kowalski. His emotional insensitivity, simian crudity, and unconscious brutality seemed unbearable. Blanche DuBois, as played by Vivien Leigh, seemed to me a frail, vulnerable heroine, a sensitive victim of Kowalski’s impulses. Decades later, I reread the play for a course I was giving in psychopathology. I paid attention to the text and not to my emotional response. I was astonished that the very criteria I had used...

    • Chapter 13 The Child Is Father to the Man
      (pp. 284-302)

      In retrospect, adult outcome can be explained. The crazy aunt, the rejecting mother, the clubfoot, the bad neighborhood — in psychological biography, hindsight permits all the pieces to fall obediently into place. However, clinicians are often blind to the Procrustean maneuvers that they employ to fit past history into their psychiatric formulations. In spite of the fact that we all “know” that childhood affects the well-being of adults, recent scientific reviews reveal that there is little prospective evidence that this is true.¹

      It is only recently that studies of normal development have survived the three or more decades needed in...

    • Chapter 14 Friends, Wives, and Children
      (pp. 303-326)

      Mental health and the capacity to love are linked, but the linkages are elusive. We cannot hold love in our hands, weigh it on a scale, or examine it with a hand lens. Poets have no trouble encompassing love with their special language, but for most of us words rarely suffice. Understandably, scientists despair of describing love. Thank God for that! Fortunately, many of us can enjoy love — wordlessly — when it comes our way.

      Nevertheless, the goal of this chapter is to examine linkages between loving and mental health. Once again, to make the invisible visible and the...

  8. PART FOUR: Conclusions

    • Chapter 15 The Maturing Ego
      (pp. 329-350)

      A central thesis of this book is that if we are to master conflict gracefully and to harness instinctual strivings creatively, our adaptive styles must mature. However, since human beings are not simple animals, maturation of their minds cannot be considered in depth without considering the development of both body and spirit. If such a thesis points to the growth of spirit as well as mind, how can I marshal evidence that is more than mere metaphysical woolgathering? If such a thesis points toward a biological view of mind, how can I marshal evidence that adults continue to grow at...

    • Chapter 16 What Is Mental Health? A Reprise
      (pp. 351-367)

      As I tried to report the Grant Study lives, my friends often questioned the narrowness of my conclusions. For example, how did I account for the creative artist? I would retort that Dostoevski was a one-in-one-billion long shot, and that I was basing my conclusions on 100 consecutively interviewed mere mortals. Then, after I had completed the interviews that make up the statistical conclusions of this book, I interviewed Alan Poe.

      The interview was by serendipity. To gather data for a different project, I had decided to do ten more interviews. I had been in San Francisco for other reasons,...

    • Chapter 17 A Summary
      (pp. 368-375)

      In the study of optimal human functioning,” a leading psychologist has written, “we should also bring to light factual relationships that have a bearing on what values to pursue individually and socially.”¹ What, then, are the most important lessons that I have learned from my fortuitous acquaintance with the men of the Grant Study? In observing thirty-five years of their lives, what are the principal lessons that I wish to pass on?

      My first conclusion is that isolated traumatic events rarely mold individual lives. That is not to say that the premature death of a parent, the unexpected award of...

  9. References Cited
    (pp. 376-382)
  10. Appendix A: A Glossary of Defenses
    (pp. 383-386)
  11. Appendix B: The Interview Schedule
    (pp. 387-388)
  12. Appendix C: The Rating Scales
    (pp. 389-396)