Aging self-stereotypes


A wide range of studies suggests that the development and operation of aging self-stereotypes have identifiable characteristics: (a) they originate in the form of aging stereotypes as early as childhood and are reinforced in adulthood; (b) aging self-stereotypes, as well as aging stereotypes, can operate below awareness; and (c) in old age, the aging stereotypes become aging self-stereotypes.

The internalizing of aging stereotypes begins in childhood. The process has been described by Allport, “A child who adopts prejudice is taking over attitudes and stereotypes from his family or cultural environment”. The outcome of this process was illustrated when children, ranging from preschool to sixth grade, were shown drawings that depicted a man at four stages of life; participants as young as three were able to identify the drawing of the oldest man, and 67% of all the children considered the oldest man to be “helpless, incapable of caring for himself, and generally passive”.

Accordingly, it has been found that aging stereotypes have primacy over experience with older individuals. Nursing home caregivers use baby talk in addressing residents, regardless of a particular resident’s physical or cognitive health. Similarly, even when younger workers have regular contact with older workers, they tend to cling to the inaccurate stereotype that older workers tend to be less productive than younger workers. As one way of eliminating dissonance, if a highly successful elder is encountered, this person may be categorized as an exception to the internalized category.

FULL TEXT: The Journals of Gerontology