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Older Adults’ Belief of Memory Faults is Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Older Adults Belief of Memory Faults is Self-fulfilling Prophecy A new study investigates if age-related stereotypes influence older adult’s memory.

Ayanna Thomas and co-author Stacey J. Dubois, studied how negative stereotypes about aging influence memory performance in older adults. Their study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

Thomas and Dubois presented a group of older and younger adults with a list of semantically related words in a well-established test of false memory.

For example, participants were presented with words associated with “sleep,” such as “bed,” “rest,” “awake,” “tired” and “night.”

Though the word “sleep” itself was not actually presented, both the older and younger adults falsely indicated that they thought it had been included in the list, older adults more so than younger adults.

“Older adults are more likely to falsely recall these unrepresented words than younger adults. We investigated whether we could reduce this age-difference in false memory susceptibility by reducing the influence of negative stereotypes of aging,” said Thomas.

According to Thomas and Dubois, older adults may implicitly believe that their memory is impaired because of their age.

In the study, researchers informed a certain group of participants (which included both older and younger adults) that their memory would be tested and that it was typical for older adults to do much more poorly on memory tests than younger adults.

Another group of participants were told to identify words that had already been presented and the memory part of this test was deemphasized.

Those participants were led to believe that this was more of a language-based test than a memory test.

Thomas and Dubois found that older adults who were told they would perform as well as younger adults performed better than older adults who were informed about age differences in memory performance before testing.

“This study is particularly relevant today as the population of older adults in the United States and around the world increases,” said Thomas.

“As medical science has progressed to combat biological illness, psychological science must also progress to combat cognitive deficits.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Older Adults’ Belief of Memory Faults is Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Older Adults’ Belief of Memory Faults is Self-fulfilling Prophecy. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 23, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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