Aging Expectations

Research: How Do You Know You’re Old?

are you oldPreviously, I mentioned I am going back to school to obtain my Psychology degree and I’m particularly interested in aging successfully. I also mentioned that there is already a lot of research on this topic, which many people (especially myself) don’t know exists or may not have access to it.

In an effort to help communicate information in an easy-to-understand way, I’d like to bring that research to you. So, here is my first attempt:

Experiment Name and Purpose:

How Do You Know You’re Old? Gender Differences in Cues Triggering the Experience of Personal Aging

  1. Explore how certain situations made people feel old.

  2. Determine if there were differences between men and women as it relates to those feelings.

Who Conducted the Study:

  • Paul E Panek (Ohio State University)

  • Bert Hayslip Jr (University of North Texas)

  • Jessica H Pruet (University of North Texas)

Who Participated:

142  people 50 to 82 years old, 79 women, 63 men, all from Ohio or Texas.

How Did They Get Information:

Students from Ohio State and North Texas were assigned to ask two people over 50 the following:

  1. “What was the first incident or situation you experienced when someone conveyed the message to you that you are ‘old’ or getting ‘old’?”

  2. “Describe the situation.”

  3. “How did it make you feel.”

  4. “At what age were you when the incident occurred?”

What Did They Find:

  1. The mean age that the incident occurred was approximately 49 for both men and women.

  2. The majority of the incidents could be classified into four areas:

    • Discount/benefit offered

    • Aging comment

    • Physical features/appearance

    • Offered assistance

  3. Men reported more incidents related to the discount category while women had greater significance in the physical features category

  4. More often women assumed the intent was negative

My Opinions:

I’ve learned conducting research is extremely difficult, costly and time-consuming. Getting research actually published is almost like a miracle. Without a doubt, every experiment has its negative aspects. Although it doesn’t discount a study, it is important to remember when you are listening to another talk about their research. Don’t just internalize the results, analyze them for yourself – what does it mean to you, specifically!

With that in mind, here are my opinions:

  1. Students conducted the interviews…and not by their own will, they were required as a class assignment. Now, how many college students are really going to put their heart and soul into this interview? Probably not many. I mean, most very young people (college students) shy away from even talking to “old” people, let alone interview them.

  2. OMG – 49?? Are you serious? People are getting “old” comments when they are 49…and that’s the mean, that means some people are getting them at an even younger age!

  3. The survey identified that women felt it more specifically with appearance, which seems obvious, huh? The pressure on women to look younger is through the roof as it relates to the pressure put on men.

  4. When I first found this survey, I thought it was going to provide more helpful information. Although this is interesting, I don’t believe there are any actions that we can take from this survey to help the situation. The authors do suggest intervention when this happens so that “older” people don’t internalize the incident and begin to isolate themselves or have impaired functioning. But, that seems impossible…how would anyone know the incident occurred in order to even intervene. And, in my mind, we need to do better ourselves not necessarily rely on others to intervene. We need to learn not to internalize these (probably innocuous) remarks. Let’s figure out how to do that!

Other Interesting Notes from the Research:

This article did provide a lot of background study information. I may use some of these for a future article review but wanted to share the highlights now.

  1. Younger adults tend to underestimate an individual’s age while older adults tend to overestimate (Voelkle, 2012).

  2. Not internalizing negative beliefs may have advantages, wherein individuals with a positive self-perception of aging lived longer and such self-perceptions had a greater impact on their survival (Levy, 2002)

  3. An increased lifespan of 7.2 years was associated with positive self-perception (Levy, 2002)

  4. Older adults have more trouble alternating their perceptions once established (Hamm, 1992)

  5. An assimilative identity style reflects more positive aging views (Whitbourne, 1988)

So there you have it, my first review! I hope you’ve found it somewhat helpful. I’d love to hear your comments. Did you:

  • get any new information?

  • change your perception of aging?

  • feel the need to change your perception of aging?

  • think the study was worthwhile?

  • have an interesting story about when someone made you feel old?

To note, I haven’t had an “incident” yet. Of course, when I look in the mirror, I notice that I’m aging but I’ve been noticing that every year of my life. Let’s face it, when I was 18 I definitely looked older than I did at 14. It stands to reason that at 47, I look older than I did when I was 37. It’s all in your perception – right?

I do color my hair so that may help mask other’s physical aging perception of me. I have had clerks call me “ma’am”, which is not the “miss” that I prefer but I assume the people who use that term are from the south and were raised to speak in that manner.

References Cited:

Hamm, V. P., & Hasher, L. (1992). Age and the availability of inferences.   Psychology and Aging, 7, 56–64.

Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., Kunkel, S. R., & Kasl, S. V. (2002). Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 261–270.

Voelkle, M. C., Ebner, N. C., Lindenberger, U., & Riediger, M. (2012). Let me guess how old you are: Effects of age, gender, and facial expression on perceptions of age. Psychology and Aging, 27, 265–277.

Whitbourne, S. K. (1988). Personality development in adulthood and old age: Relationships among identity style, health, and well-being. Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 7, 189–216.


Gold Dust Day Gecko Haleiwa Hawaii by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC BY HappyFamilyTravels.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge