Study Shows Senior Stereotypes Improve Health — If Done Right

Senior living has been grappling with using the right marketing terms and advertisements of late, ditching words and campaigns that peg seniors as just that — seniors. 

But new research shows there’s more incentive for providers to focus on the uplifting aspects of the aging population in their outreach initiatives, even those that are stereotypical. Positive subliminal messages around common aging terms actually improve physical functioning in older adults, a new study has found.

The Yale School of Public Health’s study, published in the journal “Psychological Science,” examined for the first time whether positive age stereotypes, presented subliminally across multiple sessions, would lead to improved outcomes. 

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And they did. 

“The challenge we had in this study was to enable the participants to overcome the negative age stereotypes which they acquire from society, as in everyday conversations and television comedies,” lead researcher Becca Levy said in a statement. “The study’s successful outcome suggests the potential of directing subliminal processes toward the enhancement of physical function.”

The study consisted of 100 adults — whose ages range from 61 to 99 and average 81 — who live in the greater New Haven, Conn., area. Some of the participants were subjected to positive age stereotypes on a computer screen that flashed words such as “spry” and “creative” at speeds that were too fast to allow for conscious awareness.

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Individuals exposed to the positive messaging exhibited a range of psychological and physical improvements that were not found in control subjects, researchers say. They benefited from improved physical function, such as physical balance, which continued for three weeks after the intervention ended.  

Also, during the same period, positive age stereotypes and positive self-perceptions of aging were strengthened, and negative age stereotypes and negative self-perceptions of aging were weakened.

Click here to access the study. 

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Written by Emily Study