A recent study investigated how intergenerational contact influences young people’s perceptions of older adults. The researchers hypothesized that quality intergenerational contact would lead young adults to identify more strongly with older adults, and in turn this would lead to enhanced perceptions of warmth, reduced perceptions of incompetence, and better attitudes toward older adults.
Over 300 young adults (age 18 to 29) responded to questions related to their attitudes toward older adults, stereotypes of older adults, and the level of contact they have with an older adult. They also indicated how much they identify with older adults by rating the level of similarity between themselves and older adults.
As expected, higher quality contact with an older adult was related to identifying more strongly with older adults, and to reduced beliefs in the stereotype that older adults are incompetent. Greater similarity and reduced incompetence stereotypes in turn predicted better attitudes toward older adults. Interestingly, the stereotype that older adults are “warm” was not predictive of attitudes toward older adults—this item had a fairly high rating in general, so intergenerational contact or similarity were not likely to affect beliefs in this stereotype.
Considering the results, intergenerational contact appears to enhance attitudes toward older adults by allowing young adults to view older adults as being more similar to themselves. This relationship also works to reduce negative aging stereotypes, such as incompetence. The researchers suggest that programs meant to reduce ageism through intergenerational contact should focus on reducing the perception that older adults are incompetent. This can be accomplished by addressing common myths, as well as by engaging in activities that highlight older adults’ mental and physical competence. Warmth did not play a strong role in altering attitudes, so it may not be necessary for programs to focus on this dimension.
Cadieux J, Chasteen AL, and Packer DJ. Intergenerational contact predicts attitudes toward older adults through inclusion of the outgroup in the self. Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences (2018); 00(00): 1-10.