Age-ism

In general, do students express negative attitudes toward older adults? To determine whether or not this is the case, I told ten college students the following statement:

“Give me 3 words that come to mind when you hear the term ‘old person’.”

It was then determined how often certain responses were repeated, and whether or not they were negative, positive, or neutral connotations, as well as the total number of connotations in the three different categories. For some of the responses, determining whether they had positive or negative connotations was difficult. Overall, though, as can be seen from the attached sheet, the total number of negative connotations is much greater than either of the other two categories. The positive connotations were used the least amount of time, with the neutrals not frequented much more.

The word that came to mind most often was “wrinkly,” with 60% of the students giving that response. Although probably all elderly people have wrinkles, the fact that this term came to mind, instead of any better qualities, suggests that students do put forth a negative attitude toward older adults. The second most used terms were “health problems” and “aged.” Once again, no positive terms were supplied. The students chose to give negative terms.

This might be due to the fact that the person asking for the terms is another student. If they had been asked by someone much older, the responses would most likely, in my opinion, have much more positive connotations attached to them. If this was experimentally determined to be so, then the dilemma would be in trying to figure out if in fact students have any overall attitude toward the elderly or merely perceived attitudes that change with the situations they are placed in.

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