The most comprehensive analysis to date of research on the effect of negative stereotypes on older people’s abilities has concluded that these stereotypes create a significant problem facing that demographic.

 

EURAGE’s Ruth Lamont, Dr Hannah Swift and Prof. Dominic Abrams carried out a review and meta-analysis of Aged-Based Stereotype Threat (ABST). ABST theory suggests that negative stereotypes of older adults as less competent than younger adults may act as a threat within performance settings. This threat can then lead to older adults underperforming and ironically confirming the stereotype.

 

Evidence from 37 studies, both published and unpublished, was statistically analysed, concluding that older adults’ memory and cognitive performance is negatively affected in situations that signal or remind them of negative age stereotypes– and that these effects affect both men and women.

 

The Economic and Social Research Council funded project, further found that older people’s cognitive performance suffers more when the threat is induced by stereotypes rather than by facts.

 

The review showed that even the hint that performance was being pre-judged because of age criteria was enough to affect older people’s performance. Ruth Lamont states that ‘this evidence shows that even subtle differences in the way people behave toward older adults (such as using patronising or slowed language, or noting that age may be relevant) can be enough to make them underperform when others are formally or informally testing their abilities.’

 

Researchers have previously concluded that stereotype threat affects the major social categories of gender and ethnicity, but this new meta-analysis, which looked at over a decade of research, highlights that we should be just as concerned about stereotypes of age.

 

The EURAGE researchers suggest that the vulnerability of some older adults to ABST when they perform memory, cognitive or physical tasks has important social, economic and clinical implications which will become more and more relevant given an increasingly ageing population and workforce.

 

The paper, titled A Review and Meta-Analysis of Age-Based Stereotype Threat: Negative Stereotypes, Not Facts, Do the Damage, is published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology and Aging. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0038586 

 

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