'Help me! I'm old!' How negative aging stereotypes create dependency among older adults

Aging Ment Health. 2010 Jul;14(5):516-23. doi: 10.1080/13607861003713182.


Objectives: This study examined the effects of negative aging stereotypes on self-reported loneliness, risk-taking, subjective health, and help-seeking behavior in a French sample of older adults. The aim of this study was to show the detrimental effects of negative aging stereotypes on older adults' self-evaluations and behaviors, therefore contributing to the explanations of the iatrogenic effect of social environments that increase dependency (e.g., health care institutions).

Method: In the first experiment conducted on 57 older adults, we explored the effects of positive, neutral, or negative stereotype activation on the feeling of loneliness and risk taking decision. The second experiment (n = 60) examined the impact of stereotype activation on subjective health, self-reported extraversion as well as on a genuine help-seeking behavior, by allowing participants to ask for the experimenter's help while completing a task.

Results: As predicted, negative stereotype activation resulted in lower levels of risk taking, subjective health and extraversion, and in higher feelings of loneliness and a more frequent help-seeking behavior.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that the mere activation of negative stereotypes can have broad and deleterious effects on older individuals' self-evaluation and functioning, which in turn may contribute to the often observed dependency among older people.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Dependency, Psychological*
  • Female
  • France
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Stereotyping*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Task Performance and Analysis*