Don’t Invite Memory Loss
At one time or another nearly everyone over the age of 30 has received a birthday card joking about their declining memory or other common ailments of old age.
Now a study suggest that such negative portrayals ofÂ old ageÂ actually help bring about theÂ problems they joke about, such asÂ memory loss in old age.
In one part of the study Harvard University researcher Bacca Levy, Ph.D., asked volunteers aged 60 or over to press either the up or down arrow on a keyboard each time a word was flashed on a computer monitor. Some participants were shown words with negative connotations about aging, such as senile and incompetent, while other folks saw terms with more positive associations, such as wise or alert
Each word was visible for such a brief period of time–anywhere from a tenth to a twentieth of a second–that the participants couldn’t actually read them. Even so, subjects shown words that reinforced negative views of the erderly later performed more poorly on memory loss tests than folks who saw the positive words, Levy reports in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
So negative stereotypes may become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially if we’re not conscious that we’ve been exposed to them. This shows how insidious our views of aging are, Levy says. Maybe it’s no coincidence that in an earlier cross-cultural study Levy found that views of aging are particularly positive in China–where elders far outperform their American counterparts on memory tests designed to measure memory loss in old age.