Age-related variation in the influences of aging stereotypes on memory in adulthood
This study examined how age and stereotype threat interact to affect memory performance. Adults between the ages of 24 to 86 were recruited from a community to participate in the study. Before completing a test of memory, individuals read newspaper-type reports that either reinforced the inevitability of memory decrements with old age or negated the inevitability of stereotypical decrements. Participants then were allowed to study a list of 30 words for two minutes and later wrote down all the words they could recall. Recall performance of the youngest and oldest participants was not affected by stereotype threat. Stereotype threat effects emerged for adults in their 60s, but participants in their 40's showed a stereotype-contrasting effect with better memory performance in the stereotype-confirming compared with the stereotype-disconfirming condition. Beliefs about the controllability of memory increased and aging-related concerns about memory decreased for participants who read the stereotype-disconfirming information. In the stereotype-confirming condition, controllability decreased and aging-related concerns increased. Changing beliefs moderated memory performance, with older adults whose beliefs became more positive following the stereotype manipulation showing better recall than those whose beliefs became more negative. Although stereotype threat effects occurred for some age groups, the activation of positive and negative stereotypes had different effects depending on age. These findings highlight the importance of group identification in producing reduced memory performance under stereotype threat.