Improving memory in old age through implicit self stereotyping

Two studies investigated the effects of elderly stereotype activation on memory performance. In Experiment 1, men and women 60 years of age and older (average age = 73) volunteered for a study on memory improvement. All participants completed an exercise that involved the subliminal presentation of stimuli to activate either negative (e.g., decline, dependent) or positive (e.g., wise, enlightened) stereotypes of the elderly. Individuals were then randomly assigned to receive either an explicit external attribution for success in the upcoming memory task (that light exposure will help their memory), an explicit internal attribution for success (that they were in a placebo condition so their memory success will be due to their effort), or no feedback (control). Results showed that memory performance varied as a function of subliminal presentation of age-related stereotypes but not as a function of explicit attributions. When negative stereotypes were made accessible, even without participants' conscious awareness, memory performance generally suffered. Memory improved with unconscious exposure to positive aging stereotypes. In Experiment 2, men and women ages 18-35 years (average = 26) showed few effects of subliminal exposure to the elderly stereotypes, with the exception of some increased memory performance in the negative stereotype condition. These studies suggest that even unconscious exposure to group stereotypes can introduce stereotype threat and reduce performance in individuals who identify with the group.

Levy, B. (1996). Improving memory in old age through implicit self stereotyping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 1092-1107.