Ignoring stereotypes may keep seniors mentally sharp
A new study shows that senior citizens who do not believe that age influences memory performed better on tests, compared to those who “buy in” to the stereotypical belief that memory loss occurs with age.
The study, from North Carolina State University suggests that negative input “activated” poor performance on memory tests. When senior citizens perceived they were supposed to perform poorly on a particular type of memory test, they had lower scores. The researchers say negative input about memory loss associated with aging may “activate” poor memory response among seniors
According to researcher Dr. Tom Hess, "For example, older adults will perform more poorly on a memory test if they are told that older folks do poorly on that particular type of memory test. Memory also suffers if senior citizens believe they are being stigmatized, meaning that others are looking down on them because of their age”.
Concern about how others view aging seems to negatively affect memory among senior citizens. "The positive flip side of this is that those who do not feel stigmatized, or those in situations where more positive views of aging are activated, exhibit significantly higher levels of memory performance." Simply remaining confident that memory does not decline with age seems to keep seniors mentally sharp.
The study also showed that senior citizens with the highest education suffered the most from stereotyping. "We interpret this as being consistent with the idea that those who value their ability to remember things most are the most likely to be sensitive to the negative implications of stereotypes, and thus are most likely to exhibit the problems associated with the stereotype”, explains Hess.
The study examined adults aged 60 to 70 years and 71 to 82, showing that senior citizens who ignore stereotyping remain mentally sharp. Seniors performed poorly on memory test when they perceived that memory was supposed to suffer with age. According to Hess, “Social factors”, such as stereotyping, “may have a negative effect on older adults' memory performance."
The study reinforces the value of maintaining a positive attitude about aging.