The effects of age-stereotyped stimuli on older people’s self-perceptions of age and grip strength
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Background: The psychology of ageing has shown that over time, changes in lifestyle and attitudes influence an individual’s ageing experience (Deary et al. 2009). Recent statistics show that over 18% of the UK population are currently considered ‘old’ (Office of National Statistics, 2018), therefore it is becoming a priority that misconceptions and age-stereotypes relating to health and functioning during the ageing process are investigated to explore their possible affects. Objectives: The current thesis has 4 key aims, which are to: (1) Determine whether a natural association exists between functional health (as measured by grip strength) and self-perceptions of age in younger and older adults; (2) Develop a bespoke implicit age-stereotype priming task, which addresses 3 commonly cited limitations of previous literature, and present UK generated age-stereotyped word primes; (3) Investigate (using this improved method) the effects of negative, positive and neutral age-stereotyped word primes on younger and older adults’ grip strength (GS) and self-perceptions of own ageing experience; and (4) Establish whether individual differences leave some older adults more vulnerable to the effects of age-stereotypes. Method: Participants were asked to self-report selfperceptions of age, to perform a simple grasping task to measure grip strength, and to complete an implicit age-stereotype word priming task. Results: Positive selfperceptions of age were positively correlated with higher GS amongst older adults only, independent of increasing older age. Exposure to negative age-stereotyped word primes significantly reduced both GS and self-perceptions of age in the older group only, whilst positive age-stereotyped word primes significantly increased GS. The former effect was significantly stronger than the latter. Mediation analysis confirmed that self-perceptions of age mediate the association between age-stereotyped word primes and GS. The age stereotyped word primes acted as an intervention which either increased or decreased older adults’ self-perceptions of age (depending on the valence of the prime words), which in turn then either improved or weakened GS levels during the grasping task. Results also revealed that individual differences leave some older adults more vulnerable to the effects of age-stereotypes; those with lower self-perceptions of age are more vulnerable to the effects of negative ageing stereotyped word primes (experiencing significantly larger declines in GS), whilst also gaining the least benefit from positive age-stereotyped word primes (experiencing the smallest increase in GS). Cumulative analysis showed that those with lower self-perceptions of age also required exposure to a fewer number of implicit negative age-stereotype word primes to significantly reduce GS in comparison to those with higher self-perceptions of age (i.e., they are also vulnerable to the cumulative effects of negative age-stereotypes). Conversely, when those with lower self-perceptions of age were exposed to positive age-stereotype word primes, not only did they experience smaller improvements to GS, but importantly they also require exposure to more positive implicit age-stereotype word primes to improve GS in comparison to those with higher self-perceptions of age. Discussion: I argue that the findings of this thesis are applicable to and informative for researchers, policy makers, and clinicians when attempting to identify those older adults most at risk of experiencing declines in functional health as a result of vulnerability to the effects of age-stereotypes. The current thesis findings also highlight approaches for early intervention in order to increase functional health through promotion of positive age-stereotypes.