North Carolina State University issued the following news release:

Think Memory Worsens With Age? Then Yours Probably Will

Thinking your memory will get worse as you get older may actually be a
self-fulfilling prophecy. Researchers at North Carolina State University
have found that senior citizens who think older people should perform
poorly on tests of memory actually score much worse than seniors who do
not buy in to negative stereotypes about aging and memory loss.

In a study published earlier this month, psychology professor Dr. Tom
Hess and a team of researchers from NC State show that older adults’
ability to remember suffers when negative stereotypes are “activated” in
a given situation. “For example, older adults will perform more poorly
on a memory test if they are told that older folks do poorly on that
particular type of memory test,” Hess says.

Memory also suffers if senior citizens believe they are being
“stigmatized,” meaning that others are looking down on them because of
their age.

“Such situations may be a part of older adults’ everyday experience,”
Hess says, “such as being concerned about what others think of them at
work having a negative effect on their performance – and thus
potentially reinforcing the negative stereotypes.” However, Hess adds,
“The positive flip side of this is that those who do not feel
stigmatized, or those in situations where more positive views of aging
are activated, exhibit significantly higher levels of memory
performance.” In other words, if you are confident that aging will not
ravage your memory, you are more likely to perform well on memory-
related tasks.

The study also found a couple of factors that influenced the extent to
which negative stereotypes influence older adults. For example, the
researchers found that adults between the ages of 60 and 70 suffered
more when these negative stereotypes were activated than seniors who
were between the ages of 71 and 82. However, the 71-82 age group
performed worse when they felt stigmatized.

Finally, the study found that negative effects were strongest for those
older adults with the highest levels of education. “We interpret this as
being consistent with the idea that those who value their ability to
remember things most are the most likely to be sensitive to the negative
implications of stereotypes, and thus are most likely to exhibit the
problems associated with the stereotype.”

“The take-home message,” Hess says, “is that social factors may have a
negative effect on older adults’ memory performance.”

[end news release]

Here’s a link to the abstract of the study:

Courtesy of Ken Pope