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    Stereotypes can harm performance of older adults on cognitive and physical tasks



    Summary: When older people feel personally stigmatized as being physically or cognitively deficient, they fail to live up to their actual abilities when tested, a new study reports.

    Source: Georgia State University.

    When older adults are considered to be cognitively or physically impaired, they tend to perform below their abilities on tasks, according to a recent review article by Sarah Barber. She is a psychology and gerontology researcher at Georgia State University.

    Groups who are stigmatized due to race, socioeconomic status or age generally perform more poorly when they face negative stereotypes, Barber said. She found expectations of others can play a strong role in how well older adults perform on cognitive tasks and motor skills such as driving.

    This phenomenon is known as “stereotype threat”. The concept was originally developed to look at stereotypes around race, but the effect turned out to be much broader. It can affect older adults by affecting their memory, physical performance, their driving abilities and even in job satisfaction.

    Older adults frequently encounter the challenge of stereotype threat at their physician’s chamber, where they routinely go for checkups, and where they may sometimes be given cognitive tests as well. Research shows about 17 percent of individuals aged 50 and older experience stereotype threat at the doctor’s chamber, and about 8 percent worry their physician is negatively evaluating them because of their age.

    This can lead older people to underperform on the cognitive tests they are given and can lead to greater scepticism of physicians, greater dissatisfaction with healthcare services, worsening of mental and physical health, and even increase in rates of hypertension.

    That can be damaging and actually lead to more forgetting.

    In lab studies, stereotype threat can affect physical performance, leading to slower walking and weaker grip strength for older adults.

    We need to make people feel comfortable and confident in their own abilities, and feel that they will be respected no matter how they perform.

    Published: Georgia State University.

    Contact: Sarah Barber, Georgia State University.

    Details: Image source Unsplash


    Hi, I’m Aarti, My Psychoanalytical approach towards my clients is to empower them to better their lives through improving their relationship with themselves. I believe shame and guilt is a common barrier to change. I aim to guide my clients through re authoring their narratives where shame, guilt, and other problems have less power and take up less space.

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