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Moreover, older persons perform less accurately on the witness stand, the authors continue. One particular study of 51 senior citizens and 62 college students reflected the fact that the older people "forgot more details and were more easily swayed by suggestions from the people administering the test, as compared with college students" (Gaydon, 679). These seniors were not suffering from Alzheimer's or any other malady; they just didn't have a great recollection of facts. That said, when asked "very specific, non-leading questions," in many cases older people are "just as likely to correctly identify a suspect as a younger adult when properly questioned" (Gaydon, 679).
Gaydon's second point, the most germane to this discussion, relates to older people as victims in the criminal justice system. This reveals that jurors aren't the only ones to discriminate against older witnesses; in fact police officers often take the position that older people "are less reliable and less thorough at giving statements than young adults" (681). Police officers also believe that older people are "less likely to be victimized than younger people"; and in that particular case, it can lead to serious discrimination because police (theoretically) may not take the alleged crime as seriously as they would if the victim were younger, Gaydon offers (681).
Still on the subject of ageism and the American legal system, author Howard C. Eglit has a different perspective on seniors and the legal system's tendency to be bias against seniors. While Eglit agrees that ageism directed toward the elderly "often is pernicious" (Eglit, 2005, p. 60). Eglit sees that examples of negative imagery, "pejorative terminology, and uninformed hurtful stereotypical thinking…abound" (60).
And so Eglit is on board with the idea that ageism is evil and unfair. But he offers a "nuanced assessment" and three "foundational caveats": a) age bias can be nothing but a "minor note" in a case involving breach of contract, however, age becomes far more prominent when an adult is accused of "sexually molesting a minor"; b) the weight of age bias varies dramatically with the "target of that bias"; to wit, an elderly judge may well get more respect from the jurors over whom she presides "than an elderly witness would be accorded"; and c) the weight of age bias and discrimination vary not just with the age of the target of the bias, but also with the age of the "ageist"; to wit, a juror that is 25 years old may "unwarrantedly discredit the eye-witness testimony of a 75-year-old witness simply because of that witness's age" but at the same time that juror may accept the testimony of a 30-year-old who testifies to the same facts as the 75-year-old" (Eglit, 60).
In summary, Eglit asserts that ageism in the legal system is "a complicated matter" and so researchers should be cautious about using "the notion of ageism unadorned" because that approach is unfair to the bigger picture, and too simplistic as well.
Stereotypes Hurt Older People
The stereotypes mentioned by Rothenberg, Eglit and Gardner are to be found in much of the literature that relates to older people and discrimination. An article in Educational Gerontology zeros in on stereotypes on aging, which the authors believe is one solid reason why there is so much prejudice against older people. In fact, due to the many negative stereotypes society perpetuates in the private and the public arena, many seniors are subjected to a "double whammy" (Horton, 2007, p. 1021). That double whammy exists because: a) negative stereotypes influence the way older people are treated by society; and b) negative stereotypes affect how older people view themselves (Horton, 1021).
Not all stereotypes about older people however are blatantly unfair or entirely out of the blue. The fact that many members of the elder population tend to avoid exercise unfortunately lends credence to the health-related stereotype that they aren't physically healthy enough to perform many tasks that employers expect of employees. For example, on page 1022 Horton points out that research conducted by the Heart and Stroke foundation of Canada shows "52% of baby boomers are sedentary" and 30% of baby boomers "are obese." This fact flies in the face of the data from seniors -- 98% of people over 50 years of age believe "exercise is important to staying health" (Horton, 1022). Those facts having been reported, it is also true that "psychosocial variables contribute to…" the lack of physical activity on the part of older people. Because seniors are "routinely subjected to negative stereotypes regarding their physical and cognitive abilities," the authors continue, they tend to "buy into these negative depictions of aging" (1023).
In fact, surveys of older adults in North America (including the U.S. And Canada) show that elder citizens view members of their own age group as "…lower in status, less likeable, unhappier, more dependent, and less goal oriented than younger adults" (Horton, 1023). Facts from bona fide research bear out the truth about ageism and bias: a) in a recent survey, 84% of Americans and 91% of Canadians reported "at least one incident of ageism; b) more than 50% of both Canadians and Americans reported multiple incidents of age discrimination; and c) when elementary school children were shown pictures of a man at "four distinct stages of life" two thirds of the children considered the man in the fourth stage (his elderly years) to be "…helpless, incapable of caring for himself, and generally passive" (Horton, 1024).
When seniors are exposed to negative stereotypes -- for example, frequently reminded regarding their expected memory losses and lapses -- that can result in what Horton describes as "disidentification" (1029). Essentially, disidentification serves as a protective function, that is, because an older person is expected to perform poorly, when he or she does perform poorly it is not a threat to "self-esteem" (Horton, 1029). The doubly sad part of that scenario is that once an older person disidentifies with his or her place in society, a serious decrease in motivation can take place. And moreover, seniors that remove "cognitive and physical abilities as a basis for self-evaluation because they no longer care" can and does lead to a "downward spiral" for that person (Horton, 1029).
Attitudes Toward Aging -- Prejudice and Stereotypes
What factors go into attitudes relating to how people perceive and understand aging? The authors of an article in Educational Gerontology explain that notwithstanding the belief that later adulthood can be a "…healthy, productive, and satisfying time of life, ageism or prejudice and discrimination against older adults and a fear of the aging process, continues to be a widespread phenomena" (McConatha, 2004, p. 169). With that in mind, the authors of this piece studied and compared attitudes and anxieties toward ageing in the United States, Germany, Finland and Turkey.
Women as a general rule tend to more often be seen victims of "negative biases associated with age," McConatha explains (171). Ironically, although women live longer than men, they are considered to be "old" at a younger age than men, and as they grow up and mature women are socialized to "place more value on their appearance than men" (McConatha, 171). Hence, older women experience more anxiety about their aging bodies and that source of anxiety can result in "shame…" and psychological issues linked to that shame, McConatha continues. In Germany and in the U.S., women have more concerns about aging than men do; in Turkey as well, older males were seen to have "a more positive self-image than did Turkish females" (McConatha, 172).
The authors' research reveals that older women in Finland and Turkey "appeared to be less optimistic about getting older" and moreover, women in both nations reported "lower life expectancies than actual life expectancies" (173). Also, women in both Finland and Turkey appear to be "…less optimistic about getting older," McConatha continues. Meanwhile the research project launched by the authors of this piece entailed questionnaires (which included a 20-item "Anxiety about Aging Scale") to 334 men and women (79 women and 95 men in Turkey; and 83 women and 77 men in the U.S.).
And while the researchers believed at the outset of the study that Turkish participants would have "fewer concerns about the aging process" -- in part because Turkey is seen as a collectivist society and the U.S. is the most individualist society in the world -- the researchers were surprised to learn that Turkish participants were "psychologically more concerned about aging" (McConatha, 177). The bottom line in this research is that because women are subjected to biases "associated with ageism" than men, women in Turkey, the U.S., and Germany, suffer from a "diminished self-image" as they grow older while men, in Turkey and the U.S., do not suffer the same prejudice and discrimination (McConatha, 179). Men tend to be seen as "gaining prestige with age" and hence they are not discriminated against as much as women are. The research into the views of 334 men and women in Turkey and the U.S. reveals what many other research…[continue]
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