Academic journal article Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics

Views on Aging: Domain-Specific Approaches and Implications for Developmental Regulation

Academic journal article Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics

Views on Aging: Domain-Specific Approaches and Implications for Developmental Regulation

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Views on aging affect development across the life span through different pathways: They create a developmental context for older people by influencing behavior toward them (stereotyping, ageism), and they become incorporated into the self-concept of older people (self-stereotyping, internalization), which influences their attitudes toward their own age and aging, aging-related behaviors, life satisfaction, and even mortality. In this chapter, we argue that views on aging should be conceived as a domain-specific construct. We provide theoretical arguments for such a view that stems from life span research, as well as empirical evidence from studies that investigate the content and activation of views on aging as well as their consequences for developmental outcomes. We argue that a domain-specific perspective provides a fruitful and more comprehensive framework for addressing the role of views on aging in developmental regulation across the life span.

INTRODUCTION

Views on aging reflect a set of beliefs about "the changes that occur between birth and death, and about the social roles and activities that are to occur in different periods of life" (Settersten, 2009, p. 74). By influencing judgments of as well as attitudes and behavior toward older persons, they exert a direct impact on the developmental opportunities of older persons (Bowen & Staudinger, 2013; Nelson, 2011; Rothermund & Mayer, 2009; Ryan, Hummert, & Boich, 1995). Another, more subtle way how views on aging can influence development is through processes of self-stereotyping and stereotype internalization (Levy, 2009; Rothermund, 2005; Rothermund & Brandtstädter, 2003): One characteristic that distinguishes views on aging from other perceptions of social groups and individuals is that getting older is associated with becoming a member of the former out-group. That is, as we grow older, we become older persons ourselves, and views of old age and aging increasingly tend to color the views which we hold of ourselves in the present and in the future.

For a long time, it has been assumed that views on aging are mainly negative and comprise images of losses as well as an overall deterioration of functioning and well-being (Kite, Stockdale, Whitley, & Johnson, 2005; Nelson, 2011). However, if one thinks about older persons and aging, other things might come to mind as well: gains in wisdom and tenderness, generosity, experience, family orientation, or the freedom to pursue long-cherished activities and projects without the time constraints, which are inherent to middle-age working life. Thus, there are many reasons to assume that views on aging are complex and multidimensional: They comprise gains as well as losses, and they relate to different areas of functioning and attributes. One such case of multidimensionality is the differentiation of views on aging regarding contexts or life domains, such as health or the work context. Considering the effects that views on aging have on aging individuals themselves, this complexity and variability in content and direction should also be reflected in the developmental outcomes which are associated with views on aging.

In the literature, a multitude of concepts and constructs have been used to describe different facets of the beliefs that people hold with respect to old age and aging (for a critical overview, see Diehl et al., 2014). We chose to use "views on aging" as an umbrella term which encompasses age stereotypes (mental representation of the characteristics and behaviors of older persons in general), aging stereotypes (generalized beliefs about the aging process), as well as personal expectations regarding age and aging, such as self-perceptions of one's own aging and future self-views. Focusing on those constructs, in this chapter we will highlight theoretical arguments for and determinants of the domain specificity of views on aging. We will also review empirical evidence from research on the content and activation of views on aging that further supports this assump-tion. …

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