Banishing “senior” moments
There are certain elements of â€œrealityâ€ that are objective. The surf, for instance, is an undeniably different substance in form and nature from the sand upon which it crashes. Equally though, there is a lot of reality that is shaped by your perception. So while some parts of the world are hard and fast, others depend on your point of view, and that attitude can actually change the nature of things. This is true of some of the processes of ageing, as has been shown in a new study.
In the study adults from the ages of 59 to 79 completed a memory test. Some participants were first asked to read fake news articles about memory loss in older adults; the others did not. This was designed to make the participants who read the articles think about stereotypical ageing characteristics like memory loss and â€œseniors momentsâ€. The researchers structured the test so that half of the participants in each group earned a monetary reward for each word they remembered and the other half lost money for each word they forgot.
For participants who had something to gain, being confronted with age stereotypes meant poorer performance on memory tests. They scored about 20 per cent worse than people who were not exposed to the stereotype. However, when the test was framed in terms of preventing losses due to forgetting, the results flipped: participants reminded of the stereotypes about ageing and memory loss actually scored better than those who were under no stereotype threat.
This is all based around a phenomenon known as â€œstereotype threatâ€ which states that when people are confronted with negative stereotypes about a group with which they identify, they tend to self-handicap and underperform compared to their potential. In doing so, they inadvertently confirm the negative stereotypes they were worried about in the first place.
This study shows, however, that in addition to this senior people do better in the face of stereotype threat if they are trying to avoid losses rather than make gains. The researchers believe this is because older adults, respond to stereotype threat by changing their motivational priorities and focusing more on avoiding mistakes.
Whatever the confounding factors though, it is a reminder that stereotypes are more damaging than useful. You could do well to remind yourself of the wisdom of The Life of Brian and remember that we are all individuals (well, Iâ€™m not) and your ageing process is what you make it.