repeat this information, but rather attempt to integrate that work with the emerging literature on the social psychology of stigma. Using a social-psychological approach, we explore the literature on age stigma with respect to both potential perpetrators (society, younger adults) and potential targets (older adults).1 Specifically, in the first section we review the literature on perceivers of older adults—namely, younger adults—and their stereotypes, attitudes, and behaviors vis-à-vis older individuals. In the second section we focus on the targets—older adults—and their self-concepts, self-stereotyping, and coping in the face of ageism.


Chronological age, similar to sex and race, is a dimension on which individuals categorize others rather automatically (Brewer, 1988; Fiske, 1998). Cues to age are perceived from physical appearance, such as hair and facial morphology, as well as from verbal and nonverbal aspects of individuals’ communications (Bieman-Copland and Ryan, 2001; Hummert, Garstka, and Shaner, 1997; Montepare and Zebrowitz-McArthur, 1988). Upon presentation of these cues, age is readily perceived, perhaps even unconsciously, often shaping interactions between younger and older individuals. For instance, younger individuals often use stereotypes associated with advanced age to make inferences regarding older adults’ intentions, goals, wishes, and capacities and guide their behavior accordingly. First we examine the perceptions, attitudes, and stereotypes associated with older adults. Next, we consider the ways in which these stereotypes and attitudes shape behavior toward older adults. Last, we investigate potential directions for future research that may eventually change ageist stereotypes and attitudes.

Attitudes and Stereotypes

In general, individuals express predominantly negative attitudes and beliefs toward older adults, especially in comparison to their attitudes to-


We would like to emphasize that our approach is not the only framework through which to investigate attitudes and stereotypes about aging and older adults. The structure of the review conforms to the norms of social psychological literature on social stigma. We acknowledge the limitations of such an approach, for instance, limiting the discussion of aging to stereotypes, attitudes, and discrimination; however, we believe that such a focus affords the integration of previous research on beliefs about aging and older adults with basic research and theoretical work on stigma in social psychology. Such an integration is likely to reveal both the consistencies as well as the contradictions between these literatures, as well as suggest new directions for investigation.

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