Most of the work on stereotyping and aging documents this phenomenon. Far less examines the degree to which negative and positive stereotypes have an effect on the quality of life for older adults. Do negative expectations of older people and ageist beliefs lead people in general, as well as older adults themselves, to underestimate the capacities of older adults? Do positive expectations have the opposite effect?
Negative stereotypes can have harmful consequences for the quality of life of older adults and can also result in a major loss to society. With increases in life expectancy as well as reduced infirmity, many adults are aging well, but negative stereotypes of aging may put society at risk for losing the contributions of these vital and knowledgeable people. The potential individual and social effects underscore the need to understand the content of aging stereotypes in terms of their accuracy and applications. It is especially important to understand how negative stereotypes exacerbate poor performance in areas in which decline is real. That is, beliefs that memory is bad in old age can reduce motivation when increased motivation is needed instead. A framework for predicting and interpreting individuals’ behavior is imperative to understand how aging stereotypes drive behavior in both positive and negative ways.
Social psychologists have a long history of studying stereotypes and their effects on judgment and behavior. As outlined in more detail below, stereotypes people have about others can influence how those others are treated and in turn elicit particular behaviors from the others that are consistent with those stereotypes (e.g., Snyder, 1992). In addition, stereotypes can exert a direct influence on the stereotype holder. In particular, activation of a stereotype can cause people to act in a manner consistent with the stereotype (Dijksterhuis and Bargh, 2001), regardless of whether they are members of the stereotyped group or not (Wheeler and Petty, 2001).
The current literature suggests that both positive and negative stereotypes influence judgments made about older adults in everyday life. There are countless ways in which negative stereotypes can have serious personal consequences on the way older adults are perceived and treated (Pasupathi and Löckenhoff, 2002). For example, Erber and colleagues (2001) find that memory failures are seen as more serious for older adults than younger adults and support the perceiver’s negative expectations of aging. Older adults are repeatedly reminded of negative stereotypes associated with aging in a variety of settings, such as media advertising of products and services that focus on such aspects of aging as memory loss, frailty, incontinence, and loss of mobility. Other examples include ageist views of older