Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Attitudes and Stereotypes about Attitudes across the Lifespan

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Attitudes and Stereotypes about Attitudes across the Lifespan

Article excerpt

In the first of two telephone-survey studies, factor analysis of the attitudes of 159 respondents revealed a general conservatism factor and two forms of liberalism, traditional and radical. Conservatism increased with age, traditional liberalism was strongest in women and middleaged persons, and radical liberalism was stronger in men and decreased with age. In the second study, 240 respondents estimated the attitudes of a young, middle-aged, or old male or female target. Evidence of an "old-is-conservative" stereotype was clearest among young participants. Among old participants, the stereotype was evident only when the target was male. People associated traditional liberalism more with women than with men and radical liberalism more with men than with women. Both kinds of liberalism were expected to decrease with age. The authors conclude that age plays as important a role as gender in the attitude impressions people form during initial encounters.

Social interactions are frequently influenced by the information people have about the attitudes of others (Button, Grant, Hannah, & Ross, 1993). Much of this information is acquired gradually as the result of social comparison processes during interaction and discussion (Festinger, 1954). Some information, however, is available before any interaction takes place; expectations about a person's attitudes are formed as soon as the category or group to which the individual belongs is identified. (Byrne, Clore, & Smeaton, 1986).

Elsewhere these researchers have reported on the stereotypic expectations college students have concerning the attitudes of men and women (Grant, Button, Ross, & Hannah, 1997). In the research reported here, an examination of attitudes and inferences about attitudes in a population outside the university was conducted. The primary interest was in people's stereotypes about the liberal or conservative attitudes of young, middle-aged, and old men and women. A secondary question was whether or not these stereotypes would depend on the perceiver's own age and gender.

Attitudes on issues related to liberalism and conservatism were examined because of the large number of studies (e.g., Henningham, 1996; Riemann, Grubich, Hempel, Mergl, & Richter, 1993; Truett, 1993) that have reported age and/or gender differences on this dimension. In general, conservative attitudes have been found to be more common among older than younger participants (Henningham, 1996, Truett, 1993, but see Danigelis & Cutler, 1991). The evidence concerning gender differences in attitudes, however, is more mixed. Some studies (e.g., Feather, 1979) have found that women are more conservative than men, others (e.g., Ekehammar, 1985) that women are more liberal than men, and still others (e.g., Truett) have found no gender differences. Riemann et al. (1993) found that women scored lower than men on a factor they labeled liberalism and affirmation of technological progress but that men and women scored about equally on a general conservatism factor. Similarly, Grant et al. (1997) found that men agreed more than women with statements endorsing pornography, prostitution, casual sex, and police detention of potentially violent offenders. However, women were more likely than men to endorse feminist positions and to take a tolerant view of homosexuality.

Compared to the large number of studies that have examined age and gender differences in actual attitudes, only a few have examined people's stereotypes about these differences. Bassili and Reil (1981) found that both young and old participants rated elderly people as relatively conservative. Similar findings were reported by Signori, Butt, and Kozak (1982). Although the attribution of conservatism to old people suggests the existence of a stereotype about their attitudes, such a conclusion may not be warranted. Researchers have rarely focused participants' attention specifically on old people's attitudes. …

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