Category Archives: Stereotyping

Negative stereotypes trigger loneliness & dependency in older people

The attitudes that people have about ageing have been shown to have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing in later life. An interesting study focused on the impact of internalised ageism on feelings of loneliness and dependency.

The research found that exposure to a negative ageing-stereotype increased self-reported loneliness compared to a positive ageing-stereotype or a control condition. Additionally, participants were more risk averse in the negative age-stereotype condition than in the positive age-stereotype or control condition. The results highlight that the mere activation of negative stereotypes can cause older people to adopt a condition that is reminiscent of dependent states, where they complain about their loneliness but remain passive, avoiding any behavioural initiative or risk taking.

A second aspect of the research showed that priming ageing stereotypes influenced health perception and extraversion, with participants in the negative condition declaring being in a more deteriorated state of health and describing themselves as less extraverted than their counterparts in the positive stereotype condition. A crucial finding of this part of the research was the fact that stereotype priming impacts older people’s help-seeking behaviour. More specifically, a negative age-stereotype priming increased help-seeking compared to a positive age stereotype priming.

The researchers concluded that the implications of their findings were straightforward – “The mere activation of a negative stereotype leads older individuals to feel lonely, to depreciate their health status, to avoid taking any risks and to systematically seek for help in their social environment. These effects are similar to those symptoms that are frequently encountered in an institutionalized context of enhanced dependency.”

The research can be accessed here.

Attributing illness to ‘old age’ increases risk of mortality

The dissemination of stereotypical beliefs about ageing have led to endorsement of the myth that ‘to be old is to be ill.’ This negative stereotype can have very concerning effects on health and longevity.

An interesting piece of research examined older people’s beliefs about the causes of their chronic illness (ie, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.) and tested the hypothesis that attributing the onset of illness to ‘old age’ is associated with negative health outcomes. A series of multiple regressions (controlling for chronological age, gender, income, severity of chronic conditions, functional status and health locus of control) demonstrated that ‘old age’ attributions were associated with more frequent perceived health symptoms, poorer health maintenance behaviours and a greater likelihood of mortality at 2-year follow-up. The probability of death was more than double among participants who strongly endorsed the ‘old age’ attribution as compared to those who did not (36% vs. 14%).

The findings are further evidence of the toxic impact of internalised negative stereotypes about ageing and should be considered as an important component of interventions to improve the health and wellbeing of older people.

The research can be found by clicking here.

How negative ageing stereotypes create dependency among older adults

This interesting study examined the effects of negative ageing stereotypes on self-reported loneliness, risk-taking, subjective health, and help-seeking behaviour in a sample of older adults. The aim of the study was to show the detrimental effects of negative aging stereotypes on older adults’ self-evaluations and behaviours, the well known increases in dependency often observed in health care environments (including hospitals). The researchers explored the effects of positive, neutral or negative stereotypes. As predicted, negative stereotype activation resulted in lower levels of risk taking, subjective health and extraversion, and in higher feelings of loneliness and a more frequent help-seeking behaviour. These findings suggest that the mere activation of negative stereotypes can have broad and deleterious effects on older individuals’ self-evaluation and functioning, which in turn may contribute to the often observed dependency among older people.

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Reducing cardiovascular stress with positive self stereotypes of ageing

It is increasingly recognised that stress contributes to the development of heart disease. In this fascinating study, researchers examined whether ageing self-stereotypes, or older individuals’ beliefs about elderly people, could influence cardiovascular function. Older people were subliminally exposed to either positive or negative ageing stereotypes. Then all participants faced mathematical and verbal challenges. Those exposed to the negative aging stereotypes demonstrated a heightened cardiovascular response to stress, measured by systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate, compared with those exposed to positive aging stereotypes. It appears that the negative aging stereotypes acted as direct stressors, whereas the positive aging stereotypes reduced cardiovascular stress. These findings indicate that negative ageing stereotypes may contribute to adverse health outcomes in older people without their awareness. The results also suggest that positive ageing stereotypes could be used in interventions to reduce cardiovascular stress.

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Facebook as a site for negative age stereotypes

Research by Becca Levy and colleagues has found ageism to exist in social networking sites. She conducted a content analysis of each publicly accessible Facebook group that concentrated on older individuals. The site “Descriptions” of the 84 groups, with a total of 25,489 members, were analysed. The mean age category of the group creators was 20–29; all were younger than 60 years. Consistent with the research hypothesis, the Descriptions of all but one of these groups focused on negative age stereotypes. Among these Descriptions, 74% excoriated older individuals, 27% infantilized them, and 37% advocated banning them from public activities, such as shopping. Facebook has the potential to break down barriers between generations; in practice, it may have erected new ones.

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Relationship between age identity and pessimism about cognitive ageing

Drawing on past studies of age identity, this research examined whether feeling older was associated with more pessimistic views about cognitive ageing. Using respondents aged 55 years and older in the Midlife Development in the United States study, researchers estimated a series of linear regression models to predict people’s dispositions toward their cognitive ageing. The main comparison is whether the effects of age identity on cognitive aging differ for men and women. Beyond the effects of chronological age, older age identities were associated with more pessimistic dispositions about cognitive ageing. This relationship, however, was found only among women. Age identity shapes cognitive ageing dispositions, though the gendered nature of this relationship remains somewhat unclear. The findings give further evidence about the far-reaching implications of age identity for successful ageing and suggest that future work could explain how subjective aging processes may differ by gender.

Feeling younger than actual age associated with better satisfaction with life

Research indicates that maintaining a more youthful identity (i.e., a larger discrepancy between actual and subjective age) is associated with higher levels of subjective wellbeing, even when controlling for chronological age, gender, socioeconomic status, marital and employment status, and objective and subjective health. The results are consistent with the argument that feeling younger than one’s actual age may function as a positive illusion that promotes better levels of satisfaction with life and wellbeing.

Impact of stereotypical attitudes on health and wellbeing

Ageism largely remains a socially tolerated form of discrimination. From birthday cards to anti-ageing advertisements and comedy sketches, stereotypical ideas about older people and the ageing process abound. While generally trivialized in mainstream culture, this article argues that ageism is, in fact, a serious matter. Drawing from a growing evidence base, the article highlights the significant and largely detrimental impact that ageist stereotypes have on people’s outcomes in later life. It then goes on to analyse some of the possible mechanisms through which stereotypes generate this effect, and finally concludes with a brief outline of some of the psychosocial interventions that might enable older people to weaken or neutralize the toxic effects of internalized negative self-perceptions of ageing. Note: the structural and power relationship dimensions of ageism, while hugely important, are not considered within this article as its focus is on the psychological and emotional dimensions and their impact on personal health and well-being outcomes, an aspect of ageist stereotyping that is seldom discussed.

Access to article here

Positive attitudes towards ageing protect against dementia

One of the strongest risk factors for dementia is the ε4 variant of the APOE gene. Yet, many who carry it never develop dementia. The current study examined for the first time whether positive age beliefs that are acquired from the culture may reduce the risk of developing dementia among older individuals, including those who are APOE ε4 carriers. The cohort consisted of 4,765 Health and Retirement Study participants who were aged 60 or older and dementia-free at baseline. As predicted, in the total sample those with positive age beliefs at baseline were significantly less likely to develop dementia, after adjusting for relevant covariates. Among those with APOE ε4, those with positive age beliefs were 49.8% less likely to develop dementia than those with negative age beliefs. The results of this study suggest that positive age beliefs, which are modifiable and have been found to reduce stress, can act as a protective factor, even for older individuals at high risk of dementia.

Access to the research paper here