Researchers recently attempted to influence people’s perceptions of aging by testing their knowledge of aging-related facts. . . and the results were surprisingly effective.
The study was conducted in two phases: in the first phase, 354 undergraduate participants (average age 19.69) answered some true or false questions related to age stereotypes. After responding to each question, participants were given the correct answer, along with an explanatory statement that varied depending which condition they had been assigned to (i.e., an educational statement about aging, a statement about intergenerational interaction, or both statements).
Participants then completed a variety of measures related to their perceptions and knowledge of aging. One week later, participants completed these same measures. A control group of participants completed the same measures at both times but responded to true or false questions about wallpaper instead of questions about aging.
In both the initial and one-week follow-up assessments, participants in the aging conditions reported significantly greater aging knowledge and less negative age stereotypes than those in the control condition. Only in the initial assessment did participants in the aging condition report more negative age stereotypes. In the initial assessment, participants in the aging conditions reported significantly greater aging knowledge, less negative age stereotypes, and more positive age stereotypes than those in the control condition. In the one-week follow-up, aging knowledge and negative age stereotypes, but not positive stereotypes, remained significant.
The second phase of the study, designed to test generalizability of results, had 505 adults age 18 to 59 from the community complete the same procedure. In the initial assessment, community participants in the aging conditions reported more positive aging stereotypes, less negative attitudes toward older adults, and more aging knowledge than the control condition. In the one-week follow-up, only aging knowledge was greater for participants in the aging conditions.
This brief intervention was surprisingly effective in influencing younger adults’ perceptions of aging, regardless of whether the information was presented as educational or as intergenerational. Even though the effects didn’t last long, the results are promising, considering the amount of exposure adults have to youth-centered culture. The effect of the intervention was also not strong enough to influence behavioral intentions, such as the intention to donate money to help older adults or to sign an anti-age discrimination petition. However, this could change with greater exposure to positive age stereotypes.
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