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

ABSTRACT 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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    • "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.
    • "Older adults are often stereotyped as having worse physical functioning (Löckenhoff et al. 2009) and as not being able to be physically active (Chalabaev et al. 2013). Individuals holding these negative views about aging are at greater risk for worse health-related outcomes and disability (Levy, 2009) because they are less likely to adopt the active lifestyle necessary to maintain fitness at older age (Chalabaev et al. 2013; Levy 2009). Individuals who feel relatively older are more susceptible to the influence of negative aging stereotypes (Eibach et al. 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: Walking speed is a key vital sign in older people. Given the implications of slower gait speed, a large literature has identified health-related, behavioral, cognitive, and biological factors that moderate age-related decline in mobility. The present study aims to contribute to existing knowledge by examining whether subjective age, how old or young individuals experience themselves to be relative to their chronological age, contributes to walking speed. Participants were drawn from the 2008 and 2012 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS, N = 2970) and the 2011 and 2013 waves of the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS, N = 5423). In both the HRS and the NHATS, linear regression analysis revealed that a younger subjective age was associated with faster walking speed at baseline and with less decline over time, controlling for age, sex, education, and race. These associations were partly accounted for by depressive symptoms, disease burden, physical activity, cognition, body mass index, and smoking. Additional analysis revealed that feeling younger than one's age was associated with a reduced risk of walking slower than the frailty-related threshold of 0.6 m/s at follow-up in the HRS. The present study provides novel and consistent evidence across two large prospective studies for an association between the subjective experience of age and walking speed of older adults. Subjective age may help identify individuals at risk for mobility limitations in old age and may be a target for interventions designed to mitigate functional decline.
    Age 08/2015; 37(5). DOI:10.1007/s11357-015-9830-9 · 3.45 Impact Factor
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    • "This perpetuates the internalization of ageism and internalized microaggression. Using the social distance model (Bogardus, 1928) and stereotype embodiment theory (Levy, 2009) as frameworks, we postulate that the continuous expression of ageism through subtle language (e.g., old as bad or young as good) can be part of a lifelong process of external and internal " othering " that can contribute to negative health outcomes or social isolation. "
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    ABSTRACT: Language carries and conveys meaning which feeds assumptions and judgments that can lead to the development of stereotypes and discrimination. As a result, this study closely examined the specific language that is used to communicate attitudes and perceptions of aging and older adults. We conducted a qualitative study of a twitter assignment for 236 students participating in a senior mentoring program. Three hundred fifty-four tweets were qualitatively analyzed to explore language-based age discrimination using a thematic analytic approach. Twelve percent of the tweets (n = 43) were found to contain discriminatory language. Thematic analysis of the biased tweets identified 8 broad themes describing language-based age discrimination: assumptions and judgments, older people as different, uncharacteristic characteristics, old as negative, young as positive, infantilization, internalized ageism, and internalized microaggression. The language of ageism is rooted in both explicit actions and implicit attitudes which make it highly complex and difficult to identify. Continued examination of linguistic encoding is needed in order to recognize and rectify language-based age discrimination. © The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:
    The Gerontologist 07/2015; DOI:10.1093/geront/gnv066 · 3.21 Impact Factor
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