Stereotype Embodiment A Psychosocial Approach to Aging

Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health, Yale University.
Current Directions in Psychological Science (Impact Factor: 3.93). 12/2009; 18(6):332-336. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01662.x
Source: PubMed


Researchers have increasingly turned their attention from younger individuals who hold age stereotypes to older individuals who are targeted by these stereotypes. The refocused research has shown that positive and negative age stereotypes held by older individuals can have beneficial and detrimental effects, respectively, on a variety of cognitive and physical outcomes. Drawing on these experimental and longitudinal studies, a theory of stereotype embodiment is presented here. It proposes that stereotypes are embodied when their assimilation from the surrounding culture leads to self-definitions that, in turn, influence functioning and health. The theory has four components: The stereotypes (a) become internalized across the life span, (b) can operate unconsciously, (c) gain salience from self-relevance, and (d) utilize multiple pathways. The central message of the theory, and the research supporting it, is that the aging process is, in part, a social construct.

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    • "e l s e v i e r . c o m / l o c a t e / p a i d central nervous system, and on positive self-perceptions of aging (Levy, 2009). However, the theory of stereotype embodiment did not consider parallel developments (Martens, Greenberg, Schimel, & Landau, 2004), demonstrating how death anxiety may affect perceptions of older adults. "
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    ABSTRACT: While aging anxiety is associated with the threat of deterioration that leads to death, death anxiety is related to the threat of non-existence and to fears from an unknown afterlife, and both anxieties can lead to ageism. The current study examined the unexplored relationship between these two existential anxieties and ageism. Measures of aging and death anxieties, ageism (in the form of ageist attitudes), and various measures of physical health were collected from 1073 older adults at the age range of 50–86. When death anxiety was low, aging anxiety was positively related to ageism, but when aging anxiety was low, death anxiety was positively related to ageism. The interaction between both anxieties and ageism remained significant after controlling for a myriad of background characteristics and physical health measures. These findings, which point at the distinctive and complementary roles that both anxieties have in connecting between one another and ageist attitudes, are discussed in light of theories on ageism.
    Personality and Individual Differences 11/2015; 86. DOI:10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.022 · 1.95 Impact Factor
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    • "A second surprising aspect of our findings was the lack of significant internalization effects in the health domain. This absence of strong internalization effects is astonishing, since particularly in the domain of health, age stereotypes have previously been shown to exert an influence on developmental outcomes (e.g., Levy et al., 2009, 2012). Although we should note that there was a marginally significant internalization effect of health-related age stereotypes for the middle-aged group, we originally had expected more substantial internalization effects in the health domain especially for the older subsample. "
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    ABSTRACT: Objectives. We investigated processes of age stereotype internalization into the self and projection of self-views onto age stereotypes from a life-span perspective, taking age-related differences in the relevance of life domains into account. Method. Age stereotypes and self-views in eight life domains were assessed in a sample of N=593 persons aged 30-80 years (T1) at two time points that were separated by a four year time interval. We estimated cross-lagged projection and internalization effects in multi-group structural equation models. Results. Internalization and projection effects were contingent on age group and life domain: Internalization effects were strongest in the young and middle-aged groups, and emerged in the domains family, personality, work, and leisure. Projection effects in different domains were most pronounced for older participants. Discussion. Our findings suggest that the internalization of age stereotypes is triggered by domain-specific expectations of impending age-related changes and transitions during certain phases of the life span. Projection processes, however, seem to occur in response to changes that have already been experienced by the individual. Our study demonstrates the dynamic interrelation of age-stereotypes and self-views across the life course and highlights the importance of a differentiated, life-span perspective for the understanding of these mechanisms.
    The Journals of Gerontology Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 10/2015; in press. DOI:10.1093/geronb/gbv099 · 3.21 Impact Factor
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    • "According to the stereotypeembodiment theory (Levy, 2009), people assimilate aging stereotypes from the surrounding culture during the socialization process, and internalizing these stereotypes early in life is likely to have negative consequences when entering old age. In accordance with this theory, Levy, Zonderman, Slade, and Ferrucci (2009) found that younger people who held more negative age stereotypes were more likely to experience a cardiovascular event up to 38 years later than those with positive age stereotypes. Although multiple stereotypes of older adults exist, perceptions of this group are generally negative (Kite et al., 2005). "
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    DESCRIPTION: Abstract Background/Study Context: Based on the stereotype content model and the behaviors from intergroup affect and stereotypes map (Cuddy et al., 2008; Advances in experimental social psychology [Vol. 40, pp. 61–149], New York: Academic Press), we examined whether being physically active may challenge the traditional stereotypes related to older adults. Methods: We compared how 94 participants (Mage = 24.48 years, SD = 7.15 years) judged one of three target groups (older adults in general, physically active older adults, and socially active older adults), with regard to perceived status and competition, warmth and competence judgments, emotional and behavioral reactions. Results: Results showed that being physically active was associated with higher status and competence. Physically active older adults were specifically viewed as an admired group eliciting both active (helping) and passive facilitation (associating) tendencies. Conclusion: Beyond the well-known health perspective related to the regular participation of older adults in physical activity, the present results open a social optimistic perspective, in which being physically active seems a promising way to challenge the widespread and resistant stereotype content of older people commonly perpetuated.
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