You probably think about such physical characteristics as wearing dentures, glasses and hearing aids, moving slowly, having gray or white hair. You might also think about such things as bingo, Early Bird Specials, cautious driving, forgetfulness, old-fashioned ideas and unwillingness to try anything new.
All of these are common stereotypes about older people.
Of course, if you assume what a particular senior is like based on a stereotype, and don’t look at that person as an individual, you are likely to be wrong.
The lazy mental habit of making assumptions based on negative stereotypes is always a problem. But stereotypes about older people can cause another, even bigger problem.
The problem occurs when seniors, themselves, believe the stereotypes.
If seniors believe they are limited simply because of their age, this attitude can become their reality . . . even when it doesn’t have to be. If they think old people are, for example, cranky or afraid of new ideas, they are more likely to conform to those perceptions.
How do I know?
Because of research done at Tufts University and reported in the Psychology Today blog on November 20, 2011.
In this research, a group of 70-year-olds did not perform as well on memory tests as a group of 19-year-olds.
That probably does not surprise you.
But you may be surprised, or even shocked, by the next finding.
When the exact same test was performed by other groups of 19-year-olds and 70-year-olds, the results were indistinguishable. Both groups performed equally well on the memory test!
What was the difference? Was the second group of 70-year-olds particularly smart, had they been taking some memory-enhancing supplement, did they cheat?
No, no and no.
Here’s the difference. In the second test, the participants were not told it was a memory test. (Instead, they were told that it was a test of some other capacity.)
That’s right. When the 70-year-olds did not know they were participating in a memory test, their memories were just as good as those of the 19-year-olds.
Without the limiting mindset that they were performing a memory test – and we all know that seniors have poor memories, right – the seniors remembered just as well as the college-age participants.
These test results suggest that what goes on in your head shapes how aging will impact you. Our stereotypes about what it means to grow old contribute to our actual experiences of growing old.
So, as we say here at Forever Young Blog, stay positive!
[BTW, the photo is of 67-year-old John Turner who obviously is not limited by negative stereotypes about senior fitness.]