Self - Stereotyping

Forty years ago one of us co-wrote a booklet “Against Ageism”. In this we identified many examples of ageism, including prejudice against age, and self-stereotyping. We then challenged a number of the myths that surround age: chronology, ill health, senility, inflexible personality, rejection, misery, unproductivity. It is cautionary to note that more than 30 years later examples of ageism persist – and these myths still need to be challenged.

Particularly relevant here is self-stereotyping. O’Brien Cousins (2000) surveyed 143 women aged 70+ about their beliefs regarding six fitness activities, including slow stretching. She found their beliefs about risks were strong and sometimes sensational. A good proportion could not see the relevance of exercises making their bodies stretch and bend. She suggests “Older women may have adopted an attitude of learned helplessness because many of them simply lack the confidence and personal resources to participate in active recreation” (2000).

Langer comments that “older adults often hold negative feelings about the elderly that are as strong, if not stronger, than those held by younger adults” (2009). Levy (2001) argues “research suggests that after a lifetime of exposure to a culture’s age stereotypes, older individuals direct these age stereotypes inwards” (2001). She draws on the finding of a number of researchers to conclude that “As individuals age, these stereotypes tend to be reinforced by repeated exposure to the mainly negative aging stereotypes that exist in North America and Europe” (2003). Moreover, these self-stereotypes “can operate without awareness to influence cognitive and physical outcomes” (2004) Mindful learning and mindfulness practice can challenge this harmful self-stereotyping, allowing a more positive perspective on ageing.