A second theme that emerges from the research is that features of the social context can shape, in part, older adults’ social identity, physical health, and cognitive task performance. This idea is consistent with research on adult social cognition that examines cognitive changes and performance within the framework of adaptive functioning (e.g., Blanchard-Fields and Chen, 1996), as well as research revealing contextual effects on older adults’ memory performance, such as the presence of a child as opposed to a young-adult listener (Adams, Smith, Pasupathi, and Vitolo, 2002). Similarly, the research by Hess and colleagues (2003) and Levy and colleagues (see Levy, 2003, for a review) suggests that older adults’ cognition, behavior, and mental health may be influenced by exposure to negative stereotypes in the social context. Building on this work, future research should investigate how cues in the social contexts of older adults outside the laboratory may be changed in ways that will improve their well-being.
The final theme that emerges from this research is that of coping strategies. Older adults are faced with a unique set of physical changes that influence their use of coping strategies to contend with stigma-related stress. Research examining older adults’ coping behavior in the face of negative age stereotypes should also adopt an adaptive framework. Consistent with the social psychological research on social stigma, it is likely that this research will reveal both costs and benefits of several coping mechanisms that must be negotiated. Future research should examine these negotiations. In addition, personality and motivational factors are likely to contribute to the particular coping strategy that individuals select in a given context. Given that older adults were once younger adults, and have acquired their stigma later in life, they are likely to use their coping strategies later. Other stigmatized groups, such as ethnic minorities and gay individuals, seem to adopt coping strategies relatively early on in order to negotiate prejudice. Consequently, research on the specific strategies used by older adults, as well as comparative work with the strategies used by other stigmatized groups, is warranted.
In sum, the message of the work reviewed in the second section of this paper is a call for additional research on older adults and the effects of ageism. The findings of such research will be essential to the development of societal-level intervention programs and strategies to reduce and eventually eradicate ageism, lessening the burden on older adults of developing strategies to cope with and combat ageism on their own.
The purpose of our review was to examine previous research on the stigmatization of older adults and to consider the consequences of ageism for the opportunities and life outcomes of older individuals. The first sec-