I find this a moving anecdote from ‘Learned Helplessness’ by C. Peterson, S.F. Maier & M.E.P. :
On its two floors, the Arden House Nursing Home had about 100 patients in residence. Their average age was eighty. Two psychologists, Judy Rodin and Ellen Langer, decided to introduce some additional good things to this particular nursing home: movies and decorative plants.
At a meeting on the first floor, the director told the patients:
I was surprised to learn that many of you don’t realise the influence you have over your lives here. It’s your life and you can make of it whatever you want. You made the decisions before you came here, and you should be making them now. I want to take this opportunity to give each of you a present from Arden House. [Plants are passed around, and each patient chooses one.] The plants are yours to keep and take care of as you like. One last thing, I wanted to tell you that we’re showing a movie two nights next week, Thursday and Friday. You should decide which night you’d like to go.
On the second floor, the patients were given the same things, under crucially different circumstances. Here’s what the director told them:
I was surprised to learn that many of you don’t know about the things that are available to you. We feel that it’s our responsibility to make this a home of which you can be proud, and we want to do all we can to help you. I want to take this opportunity to give each of you a present from Arden House. [Each patient is handed a plant by a nurse.] The plants are yours to keep. The nurses will water and care for them for you. One last thing: I wanted to tell you we’re showing a movie next Thursday and Friday. We’ll tell you later in which day you’re scheduled to see it.
The patients on the first floor had control over these new events in their lives, whereas those on the second floor, who were gven the same things, had no such control. The residents on the first floor became more active, had higher morale, and were less depressed. Eighteen months later, they were also more likely to still be alive.