Geriatric medical facilities and cognitive aging research laboratories expose older adults to features that activate aging stereotypes. Any activation of aging stereotypes, however, also activates corresponding self-evaluative concerns when an older adult confronts a task for which the stereotype implies a likely age-related performance deficit. These self-evaluative concerns drain cognitive capacity, thus reducing older adults' performance on resource intensive tasks, ranging from neuropsychological tests to the comprehension of medical information the are to remember. Drawing on basic social psychological research into stereotype threat, we investigate the role of these influences in medical environments and address mechanisms that can reduce the impact of stereotype threat. We test (a) if the activation of aging stereotypes interferes with older adults' performance on tasks that involve controlled (mentally effortful) processing, including following complex instructions to take medications or learning to use an unfamiliar glucose monitor, but (b) not with their performance on tasks that involve automatic (low effort) processing. Moreover, we (c) identify the features of medical and research settings that activate aging stereotypes and (d) develop procedures that reduce stereotype threat in these settings. Based on this research, we (e) develop guidelines for procedures that minimize stereotype threat in medical settings and (f) will elucidate aging researchers and health practitioners abut the influence of stereotype threat and the procedures that minimize this influence, thus allowing older adults to perform up to their potential.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Specialized Center (P50)
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
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