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Aging Ment Health. 2018 Feb;22(2):257-260. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2016.1239063. Epub 2016 Oct 26.

Positive versus negative priming of older adults' generative value: do negative messages impair memory?

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a Leonard Davis School of Gerontology , University of Southern California , Los Angeles , CA , USA.
b Gerontology, Department of Family & Consumer Sciences , California State University , Long Beach , CA , USA.



A considerable volume of experimental evidence demonstrates that exposure to aging stereotypes can strongly influence cognitive performance among older individuals. However, whether such effects extend to stereotypes regarding older adults' generative (i.e. contributory) worth is not yet known. The present investigation sought to evaluate the effect of exposure to positive versus negative generative value primes on an important aspect of later life functioning, memory.


Participants of age 55 and older (n = 51) were randomly assigned to read a mock news article portraying older individuals as either an asset (positive prime) or a burden (negative prime) to society. Upon reading their assigned article, participants completed a post-priming memory assessment in which they were asked to recall a list of 30 words.


Those exposed to the negative prime showed significantly poorer memory performance relative to those exposed to the positive prime (d = 0.75), even when controlling for baseline memory performance and sociodemographic covariates.


These findings suggest that negative messages regarding older adults' generative social value impair memory relative to positive ones. Though demonstrated in the short term, these results also point to the potential consequences of long-term exposure to such negative ideologies and may indicate a need to promote more positive societal conceptualizations of older adults' generative worth.


Priming; age stereotypes; generativity; memory; older adults

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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