Immunity to popular stereotypes of aging? Seniors and stereotype threat

This article investigated stereotype threat in seniors citizens (N = 96) ranging in age from 60 to 75 years old. The stereotype threat intervention consisted of two brief media reports focusing on memory, physical ability, and aging. One report was focused on the positive aspects of aging (e.g., performance of seniors on certain tasks has been virtually identical to the scores of people half their age. It is positive news for todays seniors) while the other emphasized negative aspects of aging (e.g., Findings such as these reinforce our negative conceptions of aging and the impact it can have on cognitive and physical abilities... it appears that growing old isnt getting any easier). A third group received no report (control). Following this manipulation, participants completed recall, handgrip strength, sit and reach tests, reaction time tests, and walking speed tasks. Results showed that grip strength, response times, and memory all decreased with age. However, there were no significant differences in performance across the experimental conditions (threat vs. no threat). One possible reason for this null effect is that the manipulation of stereotype threat was not particularly effective, as was suggested by some pilot data. A second possibility is that stereotype threat based on elderly stereotypes might not have affected this particular sample, given evidence suggesting that participants identified with the positive media report more than the negative media report used as a manipulation. If so, this indicates that seniors who are well educated, healthy, and live in a welcoming environment for seniors (as was the case in this sample) might be resilient to aging stereotypes.

Horton, S., Baker, J., Pearce, W., & Deakin, J. M. (2010). Immunity to popular stereotypes of aging? Seniors and stereotype threat. Educational Gerontology, 36, 353-371.

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