60-Second Science

Elderly Who Forget Age Remember Better

A study in the journal Experimental Aging Research finds that senior citizens who were reminded about their age and stereotypes about old age performed worse on memory tests than secure seniors. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Senior citizens, don’t believe the hype. Because a new study finds that older folks who accept that seniors’ memories get worse do worse on memory tests. The finding was published in the journal Experimental Aging Research.

Scientists interested in the effects of stereotype on memory enlisted 103 seniors between 60- and 82-years-old to take a memory test. Before the test, some subjects were told that the test checked the effects of age on memory. Researchers call this a threat—it reminds participants of the stereotype. That group was also asked to write down their age after reading the instructions, again homing in on the stereotype.

The other group was told that the test controlled for biases. This could make them feel more secure. Researchers also gave participants a stigma consciousness questionnaire to test how strongly they bought into negative stereotypes.

The results: participants who got reminded of their age and the old age, poor memory stereotype did significantly worse. Those who say they feel stigmatized also performed more poorly. So your memory may function better just by believing that it will. In which case, you really will eventually figure out where you left your car keys.

—Cynthia Graber

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