The impact of stereotype threat on age differences in memory performance

In this experiment, older (average age = 70.8 years, range = 62-84) and younger (19.3, 18-30) adults completed a questionnaire assessing the degree that they valued their memory ability. Individuals then read newspaper-type reports that either reinforced the inevitability of memory decrements with old age (e.g. "to maintain adequate levels of functioning, older adults may have to increasingly depend upon the help of memory tools as well as friends and family") or negated the inevitability of stereotypical decrements (e.g., "these findings suggest that the degree of memory loss is to a certain extent under control of the environment and the individual"). Results indicated that older adults who received the stereotype-consistent information performed worse on a recall task than those who received either stereotype-inconsistent or no information. These effects were moderated by the degree to which participants valued their memory ability. The more they valued their memory, the greater the disruptive effect of the stereotype-consistent information on actual memory performance. These results show with an older population that stereotype threat effects are more pronounced to the degree that people value the domain in question.

Hess, T. M., Auman, C., Colcombe, S. J., & Rahhal, T. A. (2003). The impact of stereotype threat on age differences in memory performance. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 58, P3P11.

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