The resulting cut on his leg, although bloody, turned out to be superficial. But when his grandmother suggested to the grocery store owner not to leave checkouts, he replied that old people fall all the time and maybe they shouldn’t walk around.
“The message stuck with her and it seemed to have an impact on her behavior,” Dr. Levy remarked. Her grandmother seemed to question her competence, asking Dr. Levy to take over the tasks she normally handled herself. The incident prompted Dr. Levy to think about how cultural values and people’s own ideas about age might affect them.
We absorb these stereotypes from an early age, through derogatory media portrayals and fairy tales about wicked old witches. But institutions — employers, health care organizations, housing policies — are expressing a similar bias, enforcing what’s called “structural ageism,” Dr. Levy said. Reversing this will require sweeping changes – an “age-freeing movement”, she added.
But she found reason to be optimistic: Prejudicial ideas about age can change. Using the same subliminal techniques that measure stereotypical attitudes, his team was able to build feelings of competence and worth in older adults. Researchers from many other countries have replicated their findings.
“You can’t create beliefs, but you can activate them,” Dr Levy said, exposing people to words like “active” and “full of life,” instead of “cranky” or “helpless.” , to describe the elderly. .
Could a company undertake such a mission? How long might the benefits of such interventions last? Would people need regular reminders to help associate aging with experience and possibility rather than nervous jokes?
The research, led by Dr. Levy and other researchers, is ongoing.
“Even though toddlers already have negative stereotypes about age, they’re not set in stone,” Dr. Levy said. “They are malleable. We can move them.