Growing Older: Young Adults' Attitudes toward Aging and the Elderly
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Stereotypes can have a strong influence on how people interact with one another, and sadly many young adults perceive the elderly in a negative light (Hummert 1990).This study investigates young adults’ perceptions of aging, and of the elderly. We predicted that young adults with positive attitudes toward their own aging would have positive perceptions of the elderly; whereas young adults with negative attitudes toward aging would have more negative perceptions of the elderly. To test this prediction, we conducted a within-subjects study whereby participants responded to items on the Aging Opinion Survey (Kafer et al., 1980). The participants then viewed a randomized presentation of nine photographs of young adults (age 18 to 35), and nine photographs of elderly adults (age 52 and older); each with an accompanying description of the individual’s lifestyle. In one condition, for example, the description: “Mary is an artist. She is divorced and has a daughter. She loves shopping and staying busy. Mary has two cats, a dog, and a parrot,” was paired with a photo of an elderly woman named Mary; and in the counterbalanced condition it was paired with the photo of a young woman named Mary. Participants rated the individuals on traits related to warmth and competence (i.e., likeable, friendly, efficient, hostile, selfish, competent). A linear regression analysis revealed no relationship between participants’ scores on the Aging Opinion Survey and their perceptions of elderly individuals, which suggests people’s beliefs about their own aging process does not influence their perceptions of the elderly.