Marketing research


This section offers media, marketers and businesses ongoing access to key reports, position statements, guidelines and best practices to keep you on the cutting edge.


Negative stereotypes about aging influence memory performance in older adults
The influence of age-related stereotypes on memory performance and memory errors in older adults was addressed in a study in Psychological Science, published online October 26, 2011.


STUDY: Ayanna Thomas, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Cognitive Aging and Memory Lab at Tufts University, and co-author Stacey J. Dubois, a former graduate student at Tufts, presented a group of older and younger adults with a list of related words. For example, one list had words associated with "sleep," such as "bed," "rest," "awake," "tired" and "night.” Though the word "sleep" itself was not actually presented, both the older and younger adults falsely indicated that they thought it had been included in the list, older adults more so than younger adults.


"Older adults are more likely to falsely recall these unrepresented words than younger adults. We investigated whether we could reduce this age-difference in false memory susceptibility by reducing the influence of negative stereotypes of aging," said Thomas.


According to Thomas and Dubois, older adults may implicitly believe that their memory is impaired because of their age. To test this theory, they informed one group of participants (which included both older and younger adults) that their memory would be tested and that it was typical for older adults to do much more poorly on memory tests than younger adults. Another group of participants were told to identify words that had already been presented—however, those participants were led to believe this was a language-based test, not a memory test.


FINDINGS: The investigators found that older adults who were told they would perform as well as younger adults were less likely to demonstrate false memory susceptibility than older adults who were told they could be expected to perform poorly.


COMMENT: “This study is particularly relevant today as the population of older adults in the United States and around the world increases," said Thomas. "As medical science has progressed to combat biological illness, psychological science must also progress to combat cognitive deficits."


SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science


Sending messages to counteract ageism

The authors of a new paper point out that ageism is different from other “ism” stereotypes because all humans will become old if they live long enough. They reviewed four theories of how stereotypes affect older adults. The theories were summarized for ICAA Research Review by co-author Teri D. Bennett.

THEORIES: The stereotype threat hypothesis suggests that since older people are well aware of negative stereotypes about older people, they try to avoid conforming to these beliefs and in doing so, become anxious and stressed. This anxiety leads older adults to fulfill the stereotype by, for example, performing poorly on a test of memory.

Since negative stereotypes of age can affect an older person’s positive self-image, the comparison hypothesis suggests people apply stereotypes, such as frailty, to others but not to themselves. For example, they believe others their age may be at risk of falling but they themselves are not.

The underpinning of the externalization hypothesis is that older people will accept conditions such as pain or poor sleep rather than seek a remedy because they believe these are part of normal aging. Some older adults may believe all the positive and negatives stereotypes of aging they have heard over the years, and the internalization hypothesis proposes they then fulfill these stereotypes by becoming short-tempered or forgetful or wise and easy-going.

CONCLUSION: The authors suggested that negative stereotypes can be counteracted by positive priming, such as choosing a positive image or words when working with older adults.

COMMENT: “There are ways that people can overcome the negative stereotypes of aging,” suggests Bennett, Helpline Coordinator, Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Maryland Chapter. “First, it is important for each of us to be aware of how we each carry these stereotypes in our own thinking. For example: Old people are terrible drivers. Old people don’t have anything interesting to say.

“Second, whenever we hear someone else make a statement or reference based on a negative stereotype of aging, even something benign like the term ‘senior moment,’ kindly point it out to them as being inappropriate and unacceptable.”

SOURCE: Educational Gerontology, 36(5):435-445 (May 2010)



Self-esteem is highest in middle age
Self-esteem can be described as a person’s confidence in his or her personal worth.
STUDY: Four times between 1986 and 2002, 3,617 US adults, ages 25-104, answered questionnaires that collected socioeconomic information, demographics and the participants’ agreement with statements such as, “I take a positive attitude toward myself,” which suggest high self-esteem, and statements that suggested low self-esteem, such as “At times I think I am no good at all” and “All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.”

FINDINGS: Overall, self-esteem followed a trajectory that rose steadily from younger to middle age, then declined around the time of retirement. On average, women had lower self-esteem than did men throughout most of adulthood, but self-esteem levels converged as men and women reached their 80s and 90s. People of all ages in satisfying and supportive relationships tended to have higher self-esteem. People who had higher incomes and were in better health tended to maintain self-esteem as they aged.

COMMENT: “Self-esteem is related to better health, less criminal behavior, lower levels of depression and, overall, greater success in life,” said lead author Ulrich Orth, PhD. “Therefore, it’s important to learn more about how the average person’s self-esteem changes over time.”

SOURCE: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(4):645-658 (April 2010)



TV viewing affects seniors’ views of aging
Watching more television increases negative images of aging among older adults, according to a recent study. However, people can become more aware of negative stereotyping by noting their viewing impressions, report the Yale researchers. Study participants ages 60–92 years were randomly assigned to an intervention or control group, both of which filled out television-viewing diaries for one week. The intervention group also evaluated how older characters were presented on television each day. “As expected, all participants showed a correspondence between greater television exposure and more negative images of aging,” says lead author Becca Levy, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine. But those in the intervention group showed more awareness of stereotypes and intended to watch less television in the future. “These findings suggest that the promotion of awareness could provide a means of helping elders confront ageism,” states Levy.


SOURCE: Yale University; Journal of Social Issues,61(2), 307 (2005).


Intergenerational understanding to overcome stereotypes

Several studies covered in ICAA Research Review newsletter show the need for better intergenerational understanding to overcome stereotypes, and demonstrate that when young people work with older adults, as they do in internship programs, everybody wins: •A study of college students majoring in advertising revealed that, when assessing the power of product ads (a sports drink, a luxury automobile, an nasal spray for colds, and adult-sized diapers) to influence behavior on themselves, people in their mid-40s,and people in their 70s, 30% of students drew upon negative stereotypes to make their decisions. For example,the students rated the luxury car and cold remedy as having the greatest influence on people in their mid-40s, but adult-sized diapers as having the most influence and the sports drink as having the least influence on people in their 70s.


SOURCE: Educational Gerontology, 33(4), 309 (April 2007)•


A study of business administration college students who taught computer skills classes to 77 residents at a nearby continuing care retirement community (CCRC) found that several of the residents purchased their own computer so they could use it more frequently. The CCRC also upgraded to a high-speed Internet service because residents went online more often and became impatient waiting for the dial-up connection. Families and staff reported some individuals had more topics to discuss, were proud of their accomplishments and made new friends. The students who taught the course reported feeling a more positive relationship with older adults.


SOURCE: Educational Gerontology, 33(7), 573 (July 2007)•


Another study showed that college students have ageist attitudes. At an average age of 22 years, 166 college students visited a health club, a restaurant or a web page development seminar with people of different age groups. The students were less likely to positively evaluate the service and less likely to patronize the restaurant and health club if older age groups were present. However, the presence of older adults did not affect the students’ impression of the Web seminar.


SOURCE: Journal of Retailing, March 2008



Who will make up tomorrow’s work-force once Boomers and oldest adults retire?

A recent study underscores the immensity of the challenge of transferring skills and knowledge from aging employees to the next generation. An online survey captured opinions and behaviors among four sets of employees: Gen Y (born 1980–1988); Gen X (born1965–1979); Baby Boomers (born1946–1964); and Matures (born1900–1945). The results revealed that 51% of Boomers and 66% of Matures reported little to no interaction with their Gen Y colleagues. Little to no interaction with the most experienced workers, the Matures,was reported by Gen Y (71%), GenX (67%), and over half of their nearest age group, the Boomers (58%). Commenting on the findings, Eric Buntin, managing director, marketing and operations for Randstad USA, observed, “Based on their self-described generation personality, GenX has the potential to bridge the generational gap between the youngest and oldest generations of workers. Leveraging this knowledge about generational strengths and value is part of employership [encouraging employee collaboration to achieve company goals], and something employers should act on to be a great place to work.”


SOURCE: 2008 World of Work, Randstad (May 2008)