verbal priming stereotype effects - are you a victim?


Still, when Becca Levy, a psychologist at Yale University, began her work on stereotypes’ effects on the elderly, she was not sure that she would find anything of note. She had examined the area with a study finding that older people in two cultures with a positive view of aging, China and the deaf Americans, fared better on memory tests than older people in the general American population.

Such studies are tricky, though, because there can be hundreds of differences between cultural groups, and something else could be responsible for the memory differences. So Dr. Levy and her colleagues decided try a method that was used to study the effects of stereotypes about race and gender. The idea is to flash provocative words too quickly for people to be aware they read them.

In her first study, Dr. Levy tested the memories of 90 healthy older people. Then she flashed positive words about aging like “guidance,” “wise,” “alert,” “sage” and “learned” and tested them again. Their memories were better and they even walked faster.

Next, she flashed negative words like “dementia,” “decline,” “senile,” “confused” and “decrepit.” This time, her subjects’ memories were worse, and their walking paces slowed.