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Senior moment? Stereotypes about aging can hurt older adults' memory, but there's an easy fix
Date:7/1/2013

ercent of older adults met diagnostic criteria for dementia when examined under stereotype threat, compared to approximately 14 percent when not assessed under threat.

But the latest research shows that stereotype threat can actually improve older adults' performance on memory tests, under certain conditions.

For participants who had something to gain, being confronted with age stereotypes meant poorer performance on memory tests. They scored about 20 percent worse than people who were not exposed to the stereotype.

But when the test was framed in terms of preventing losses due to forgetting, the results flipped: participants reminded of the stereotypes about aging and memory loss actually scored better than those who were under no stereotype threat.

"Stereotype threat is generally thought to be a bad thing, and it is well established that it can impair older adults' memory performance. However, our experiments demonstrate that stereotype threat can actually enhance older adults' memory if the task involves avoiding losses," Barber said.

Older adults, it seems, respond to stereotype threat by changing their motivational priorities and focusing more on avoiding mistakes. The study is part of a critical body of work on risk taking and decision making among older adults from the USC Davis School of Gerontology, named for AARP founder Leonard Davis and the leading research center in the world on aging and its biological, psychological, political and economic dimensions.

"Our experiments suggest an easy intervention to eliminate the negative effects of stereotype threat on older adults clinicians should simply change the test instructions to emphasize the importance of not making mistakes," Barber said.


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Contact: Suzanne Wu
suzanne.wu@usc.edu
213-740-0252
University of Southern California
Source:Eurekalert

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