Moderators of and mechanisms underlying stereotype threat effects on older adults memory performance

This study was conducted with older adults (N = 103) who were identified as young-old (aged 60-70; M = 64.2, 27 men, 26 women) or old-old adults (aged 71-82; M = 75.4, 25 men, 25 women). In the experiment, participants completed a variety of self-report questionnaires and were attached to equipment to measure their arousal via skin conductance responses (SCR). Next, they completed a memory task in either a stereotype threat or control condition. Participants in the stereotype threat condition were told that the study investigated why younger and older adults perform differently on memory tests and asked to indicate their age. Participants in the control condition were told there were no age differences on memory test performance and were not asked to indicate their age. The young-old group showed a greater impact of stereotype threat on their performances than the old-old group, particularly for those participants with the highest levels of education. These results were not explained by self-reported anxiety or physiological measures of arousal. This finding suggests that age-based stereotype threat might be experienced most strongly by individuals who are not experienced in coping with the threat (i.e., younger old people) and for those who care most about the domain in question (i.e., highly educated individuals). Older participants might be more successful in overcoming stereotype threat with experience or when they care less about the domain in question.

Hess, T. M., Hinson, J. T., & Hodges, E. A. (2009). Moderators of and mechanisms underlying stereotype threat effects on older adults memory performance. Experimental Aging Research, 35, 153-177.

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