Rigidity as a Predictor of Older Persons' Aging Stereotypes and Aging Self-Perceptions

By Levy, Becca R. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, April 20, 2008 | Go to article overview

Rigidity as a Predictor of Older Persons' Aging Stereotypes and Aging Self-Perceptions


Levy, Becca R., Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Rigidity has been previously associated with the propensity of dominant group members to target stigmatized groups with negative stereotypes. It was considered in this study whether or not rigidity predicts that members of a stigmatized group, the elderly will target their own group with negative aging stereotypes; and, if so, whether these stereotypes predict aging self-perceptions, or thinking about themselves growing old. As expected (1) older individuals with more rigidity held significantly more negative aging stereotypes over time, (2) older individuals with more negative aging stereotypes had significantly more negative aging self-perceptions over time, and (3) negative aging stereotypes partially mediated the relationship between rigidity and negative aging self-perceptions. The sample of 405 community-living individuals, aged 50 or older, was studied in 6 waves over 20 years. The findings suggest that flexibility can benefit older individuals' self-views.

Keywords: self-perceptions, stereotypes, aging, personality, rigidity.

There is a long tradition of identifying personality traits that leads to a propensity for targeting stigmatized groups with negative stereotypes (see Allport, 1958, and Cunningham, Nezlek, & Banaji, 2004 for reviews). However, it is not known whether these traits, when found in stigmatized individuals, may result in a propensity for targeting their own group with negative stereotypes and, if so, whether these same stereotypes will influence self-perceptions.

Of all the personality traits that have been linked to holding negative stereotypes of others, rigidity is perhaps the one that has received the greatest continuity of attention from researchers (Schultz & Searleman, 2002). Rigidity was defined by Frenkel-Brunswik (1949) as an intolerance of ambiguity, which she demonstrated through an experiment in which individuals holding this trait had difficulty perceiving shades on a color scale (pp. 114-115). Associated with this attitude is a tendency to avoid "situations which seem to be lacking in firmness" and "to arrive at premature closure as to valuative aspects, often at the neglect of reality" (Frenkel-Brunswik, pp. 115, 129).

Elements of Frenkel-Brunswik's concept of rigidity have been extended by subsequent researchers. A Need for Closure Scale was developed by Webster and Kruglanski (1994) which featured a Discomfort with Ambiguity subscale. It was found that participants with a high Need for Closure were more likely than those with a low Need for Closure to stereotypically perceive disparate target groups (Dijksterhuis, van Knippenberg, Kruglanski, & Schaper, 1996). In another extension of Frenkel-Brunswik's study, participants with a high Personal Need for Structure (Neuberg & Newsom, 1993) were more likely than those with a low Personal Need for Structure to form erroneous stereotypes about groups (e.g., Schaller, Boyd, Yohannes, & O'Brien, 1995). The authors described the process as "a product of overly simplistic categorizational structures imposed on group relevant information" (Schaller et al., 1995, p. 553).

In the present study, it was expected that rigidity would predict negative aging stereotypes in older individuals. There are two premises on which this expectation rested. First, if any of the participants had rigid personalities earlier in life, they would tend to continue into old age. Several studies have found that openness to experience, a component of the five factor theory of personality, is fairly stable across the lifespan (McCrae & Costa, 1992; Srivastava, John, Gosling, & Porter, 2003). (That component corresponds to the "seeking new experiences and opportunities" item in the present study's measure of rigidity.) In addition, Hess (2001) found that the factor structure for the Personal Need for Structure Scale (Neuberg & Newsom, 1993) was similar across age groups ranging from 21 to 85 years and that age was not a significant predictor of his participants' Personal Need for Structure Scale scores. …

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