How feelings of stereotype threat influence older adults' memory performance
Three studies assessed the role of stereotype threat in accounting for memory deficits in older adults. Unlike previous studies on stereotype threat involved in memory and aging, these studies used socially involving stimuli and varied instructions that were given. In Experiment 1, older and younger adults read brief descriptions of behaviors supposedly performed by an individual (e.g., "had a party for some friends last week"), either while trying to form an impression of the person (impression formation set) or while trying to memorize the sentences (memory set). Consistent with previous research, recall was higher under impression formation than memory instructions. Moreover, even though recall was lower for the older participants, the effect of instructions was equivalent for both age groups. Experiment 2 replicated these main effects but also included a measure of stereotype threat. Older participants were more likely to indicate stereotype threat regarding their memory performance, and the degree of threat mediated the relation between age and recall performance. Experiment 3 replicated the findings of Experiment 2 using a recognition memory task. These studies indicate that although impression formation instructions improve memory performance in older adults, they do not reduce stereotype threat experienced by older participants in experiments on memory. In addition, perceptions of stereotype threat worsened memory performance for older adults on both recall and recognition tasks.