Older People's Responses to Age Stereotypes: Implications for Performance Outcomes, and Health and Well-Being
Lamont, Ruth Alice
Age stereotypes are the different and often negative expectations and attitudes held by individuals about a given age group. Not only can age stereotyping lead to the unequal treatment of older people through differences in affective (age prejudice) and behavioural responses (age discrimination) toward them, but older people's own reactions to these stereotypes can have negative and damaging consequences. This thesis addresses the extent to which older adults' responses to negative age stereotypes impact on their performance on tests, and their health and well-being, further increasing age-based inequalities. Chapters 1 to 4, the introduction and theoretical chapters, introduce the thesis and the background for the subsequent studies. Areas reviewed include that of age stereotyping, how this may reflect negatively upon older adults' social identities, 'stereotype threat' as a specific response to this and evidence that perceiving ageism is associated with worse health and well-being in later life. Having identified research gaps, Chapter 5 then presents Study 1 (N = 105) which addresses the question of whether people are conscious of being judged negatively because of their age, what age stereotypes they are most conscious of and in what settings they believe they are applied. Findings confirmed that adults (particularly those aged 18-69) have a strong awareness of age-based judgement and that adults aged 60+ in particular are concerned about negative stereotypes of their competencies in a range of domains. Chapters 6 to 8 present studies 2, 3 and 4 which aimed to extend 'stereotype threat' research (Steele & Aronson, 1995). Stereotype threat theory posits that stigmatised individuals may fear confirming negative stereotypes about their social group. This negative experience ironically disrupts performance making it more likely that they act in line with negative stereotypes. Study 2, a meta-analysis including 82 effect sizes (N = 3882) split into multiple analyses, confirmed that age stereotypes have the potential to negatively impact older adults' memory and cognitive performance through age-based stereotype threat (ABST). Building on the findings from the meta-analysis, Study 3 experimentally tested whether uncertainty surrounding stereotype-based judgement explains why more subtle stereotype-based cues to stereotype threat have a greater impact on performance than fact-based cues, as was found in Study 2. Further, Study 4 examined whether the presence of a young observer or the giving of help to older participants might cue ABST and negatively impact maths performance. Although the hypotheses derived from stereotype threat theory were not supported by studies 3 and 4, these studies contribute to the stereotype threat literature by examining the potential everyday cues to ABST and the mechanisms through which it occurs. Finally, Chapter 9 presents Study 5 which uses survey data to examine different reactions-threat or challenge responses-to perceived ageism and whether these responses are associated with better or worse subjective health and well-being. Findings suggest that challenge responses may be a more adaptive reaction to ageism, with potential benefits for health and well-being in later life. Overall, the thesis highlights the damaging effects of older adults' threat responses to negative attitudes to ageing. Both negative societal attitudes and the way older people respond to and cope with negative stereotyping need to be addressed.