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Assessing Negative age stereotyping in college-age individuals who have volunteered or not volunteered with the elderly.
by: Jennifer Pero


Thank you for visiting my site. I would like to express my deep gratitude to the dedicated professors in the Department of Psychology here at Saint Anselm College. Specifically, I would like to thank Professor McKenna and Professor Troisi for their guidance in composing this thesis. I would also like to thank Professor Farrell in the Sociology department for inspiring the topic of this thesis, as well as a passion in me for helping our elderly population. 
   Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank my parents for giving me the opportunities they were never afforded in life. They have worked hard and sacrificed so that I would be provided with a first-class education, and for that I will be forever grateful. 
       Ageism, as first reported by Robert Butler in 1968 (Katz, 2001), is a major problem in society because of its projection of negative stereotypes onto individuals solely based upon their age. Butler pioneered contemporary Gerontology because he recognized that ageism was a concern even in the medical treatment of the elderly.   Past research identifies varying attitudes on aged individuals and indicates that negative stereotyping is prevalent in many communities. Recently, the treatment of the elderly has received much attention due to the inhumane conditions in our nursing facilities. Through the increased attention being given to the aged population, a renewed interest has evolved in the form of increased scientific exploration on the topic of attitudes and perceptions of the aged population. These studies encompass the views of varying populations in cross-cultural studies, as well as in studies with varying cohorts. As indicated by Kelchner (1999) Ageism affects all of society, as well as impacting the individual. Kelchner’s findings indicate that these negative stereotypes stem from various myths about the aging process, as well as aging theories that focus on negative attitudes as opposed to positive ones. These myths are most commonly generated through ignorance of the real issues at hand. 
     Ageism between different cohorts should also be made clear in order to fully understand the scope of negative age stereotyping. Gilbert (1999) found that the negative attitudes of young children toward the elderly commonly persisted, even when they received exposure to elderly individuals. In this study, children were exposed to interventions over a nine-week period where an elderly individual would display a talent. At the end of these interventions the children showed no significant difference in their attitudes towards the elderly.  These findings are interesting when compared to O’Hanlon and Camp’s (1993) findings that older participants between the ages of sixty-four and eighty-five tended to have more positive attitudes toward the elderly than did younger participants between the ages of seventeen and thirty. This may indicate that more positive views stem from a more prolonged exposure to elderly individuals. It has also been found (Hale, 1998) that elderly individuals tend to project negative stereotypes onto themselves. However, this negative stereotyping was more severe when the elderly individuals themselves had very limited contact with elderly people throughout their lives. This also supports the notion that an increased exposure to the elderly may help facilitate a more positive view of the elderly population.
       Most of the literature seen in various scientific publishing’s on negative age stereotypes has found similar things. As one can see through the aforementioned studies, education, as well as increased exposure to the elderly can serve to reduce the amount of negative views and increase the positive views of the elderly (O’Hanlon & Camp, 1993). Through the current research it is anticipated that individuals who have had the experience of volunteering with the elderly have a more positive view of the older population than those who have not volunteered with the elderly. It is also expected that the volunteering participants have a more positive outlook on their own aging process, as is suggested in the findings in O’Hanlon and Camp (1993). It is also possible that this hypothesis will be proven wrong. One of the reasons for this is that the volunteering individuals may have an increased exposure to elderly individuals who are sickly and are in need of intense medical care. Continuing to research the current literature on Ageism and exploring other points of view on this issue are a main objective when conducting this study. 
       The hypothesis for this study is formed on the basis of a mere-repeated-exposure paradigm (Zajonc, 2001). This paradigm, as described by Zajonc in the article, “Mere exposure: A gateway to the subliminal,” indicates that the more frequently one is exposed to a specific stimuli, the higher the preference for that stimuli will become. In the current study it is expected that the participants who have had previous volunteer experience with the elderly will have less negative views of the elderly, and more positive views than the non-volunteering participants. This idea is formulated from the reasoning that these volunteers have had higher amounts of exposure to the elderly population, in effect, instilling in them a higher preference for that specific population. 
      Palmore's aging survey was essentially developed to answer three questions regarding ageism, these questions are as follows: What is the prevalence of ageism in various societies? Which types of ageism are more prevalent? Which subgroups of older people report more ageism (Palmore, 2001)? While my study will only be evaluating the prevalence of ageism in a college aged population, it will quantitatively show the possible benefits accrued by prolonged exposure to the elderly population. 
   When conducting the actual research, the pool of participants will consist of General Psychology students at a small liberal arts college in the Northeast. The entire subject pool will have a minimum participant count of forty individuals. Of this larger participant group the two subgroups (volunteers & non-volunteers) in the study should have a participant count minimum of twenty individuals.


    The surveys, which will be administered to these participants, are the Palmore Facts on Aging Quiz: Part 1 and the Palmore Facts on Aging Quiz: Part 2 (Palmore, 1988). These surveys, which test three different measures of stereotyping including: Pro-aged bias, Anti-aged bias, as well as, Net bias, should adequately assess the knowledge each individual has on the aging process, as well as indicating the student’s possible acquiescence towards negative age stereotyping. In the past these surveys have found that approximately 77% of respondents have reported incidents of ageism in one or more instances (Palmore, 2001). The participants will also be provided with a brief set of written subject instructions (see Appendix A) detailing what is expected of them during the course of the study, and upon the completion of the study these participant will be given a debriefing statement (see Appendix C) detailing the purpose of the study.

   All of the procedures in the present study are being conducted in accordance with the institutions institutional review board (IRB), and informed consent is established with each participant.
   When surveying the General Psychology students the participants will indicate on the questionnaire being administered, as well as on the participant sign-in sheet, whether they have had any previous volunteer experience with the elderly. This will determine which subgroup the participant is placed in. 
   When administering the survey to the General Psychology students, the participants will be in the normal classroom setting, as dictated by their daily interactions at the college. Each participant will be given subject instructions briefly describing what will be expected during the course of the study, as well as, what is expected after its completion. After each participant has been given sufficient instruction, informed consent letters (see Appendix B) will be distributed and later collected. Both the Facts on Aging Quiz: Part I, and the Facts on Aging Quiz: Part II will be given to the participants simultaneously, along with the corresponding answer sheets. Upon the participant’s completion of both surveys he or she will be provided with a debriefing statement and a credit slip for one hour, verifying their participation in the study.


    The current study was conducted in order to assess whether attitudes toward the elderly differ when examined between two groups, consisting of both individuals who have volunteered with the elderly and those who have not volunteered with the elderly. It was hypothesized that negative stereotyping of the elderly (ageism) would be less prevalent in the group that had previous volunteer experience with the elderly and more prevalent in the group with no volunteer experience with the elderly. The results of the current study supported this hypothesis with significant differences found in the FAQ:1. However, in the FAQ:2 no significance was obtained between measures of Pro-aged bias and Anti-aged bias due to the fact that the differences between the groups were not large enough to indicate statistical significance. 
   Overall, it is difficult to analytically interpret the results obtained in the present study due to certain confounding factors. Individuals have interactions with the elderly on a fairly frequent basis, which perhaps contribute to ones self-reported views on this specific population. The hypothesis of this study was formulated based on the idea of a mere-repeated-exposure paradigm (Zajonc, 2001). This paradigm, as indicated in Zajonc’s “Mere Exposure: A Gateway to the Subliminal,” explains a phenomenon where repeated experiences or exposures create a preference for that which is being presented. The idea of the mere-repeated-exposure effect would also hold true when being exposed to a general category of persons or things, in this case being the elderly population. However, the mere-repeated-exposure paradigm, while creating a foundation for the hypothesis of the current study, can also indicate a problem with it. This being that the participant’s histories were not taken into account. Many of the participants involved in the study had most likely experienced repeated exposures to the elderly population in varying ways. For example, the age range in this participant group was 18-42, indicating that it is reasonable to assume that many of these individuals still have living grandparents. It would also be quite reasonable to assume that these grandparents affect the way in which those individuals view the elderly population as a whole if one is continuing to work on the basis of mere-repeated-exposure paradigm. The ways and amounts of exposure the aforementioned participants may have had with the elderly was not accounted for in this study and is a confounding factor to its results. 
   Additionally, it should be indicated that the general types of individuals who volunteer might have different pre-existing personality characteristics than the general non-volunteering population. Research has shown that the majority of volunteers in the adult population are frequently very involved in the community and perform multiple services as compared with the non-volunteering population. Also, the teenage populations who volunteer generally tend to perform well in their academics and be involved in school-related organizations (Poland, 2002). As reported by Mooney and Link in the article “Voluntarism,” volunteering can benefit individuals by being a source of learning, feelings of making a difference, feelings of accomplishment, and a sense of sharing ones gifts with others. However, in the current study it is not believed that traits specific to the volunteer or non-volunteer were contributing factors to the outcome of the study because the volunteer experience in question was simply that of volunteering with the elderly, and not of volunteering in general.  The participants were not asked to identify any other volunteer experiences they may have had prior to receiving the surveys, so it can not be determined whether those in the non-volunteer group had any previous volunteer experiences, outside of volunteering with the elderly population. Therefore, it is reasonably concluded that characteristics specific to the volunteering population should not have had any significant effects in the responses obtained on the FAQ:1 and FAQ:2 questionnaires.
   It is important to note that the FAQ:1 and the FAQ:2 are not the best measures for assessing attitudes towards the elderly. These surveys were devised in order to ascertain the general knowledge specific populations have on the elderly. However, a rating scale was composed and employed in order to provide a measure of Pro-aged bias and Anti-aged bias factors on the FAQ:1 and the FAQ:2. The main reason why this survey was used in the current study was because of time constraints. Other questionnaires used for the purposes of assessing attitudes toward the elderly are typically very time consuming. It was reasoned that the participant pool might provide random answers without an understanding of the questions if the time period were too lengthy. However, the FAQ:1 and the FAQ:2 have been proven both valid and reliable in assessing attitudes toward the elderly on the measures of Pro-aged bias, Anti-aged bias, and Net bias items. Therefore, it was thought not only suitable, but also practical to use the FAQ:1 and FAQ:2 questionnaires in the current study.
   One must also examine why statistical significance was obtained on the FAQ:1 but not obtained on the FAQ:2. Both of these surveys are quite similar in their line of questioning, as well as, being similar in the ways in which they are scored. Two factors are thought to be the cause of this apparent phenomenon: First, each participant was instructed to read and answer the questions on the FAQ:1 and then to do the same for the FAQ:2. It is possible that the participants could have become aware of the purposes of the study throughout the course of responding. The questions on both the FAQ:1 and FAQ:2 are very clearly true or false, with both positive and negative ideas placed in each question. Participants may have attempted to compensate on the questionnaires when recognizing the pattern of negative and positive ideas within the questions and answered accordingly. To control for this factor self-composed questions should have been added with more ambiguous wording. These questions, which would be less conspicuous in terms of positive or negative ideas, may have been effective in breaking the identifiable patterns on the FAQ:1 and the FAQ:2 if added. Secondly, there are more negative items on the FAQ:1 then are on the FAQ:2. In effect, the participants had a higher rate of Anti-aged bias on the FAQ:1 then on the FAQ:2, while the participants had a higher rate of Pro-aged bias on the FAQ:2 then on the FAQ:1. Although no significance was obtained for the FAQ:2, the results can be correlated to the FAQ:1 when examining the means displayed in figures 1 and 2. 
   The participant pool itself must be explained due to the fact that it did not strictly adhere to the criteria set forth in the participant section outlined in the methods of the study. The questionnaire was administered to the General Psychology students in the normal classroom setting as previously described. However, a sample size of only thirteen participants was present comprising the volunteer group. In the non-volunteer group a sample size of only eleven participants was available. In order to get the desired results a minimum sample size of twenty participants was needed in each of these subgroups. It was therefore necessary to go outside of the General Psychology pool to gather the needed amount of participants. The remaining participants (7-volunteers; 9-non-volunteers) were collected from the woman’s rugby team at the same institution. These participants were also in the normal classroom setting and given the same instructions as the General Psychology pool at approximately the same time of day. Although it is not expected that this deviation from the planned methods altered the study in any way, it must be taken into account that these participants were given the questionnaire on a different date than the original participant pool. 
   In the introduction to the present study, Kalavar’s article on “Examining Ageism: Do male and female College students differ?” was cited. In Kalavar’s study it was found that men typically hold more negative views of the elderly than females do. This may also indicate a problem with the present study because there were substantially less male participants than female participants. The current study had thirty-three female participants and only seven male participants. This may have had an effect on the results of the experiment because the majority female participants, in reference to Kalavar’s findings, would have adhered less to negative stereotypes of the elderly than the minority male population. 
   Overall, the findings of the current study are what one would expect after reviewing the available literature. Although no previous reference to voluntarism in regards to ageism was found, the research examined supports the notion that increased exposure to the elderly typically results in less negative associations and ageism (O’Hanlon & Camp, 1993). The current study indicates that more research, with a broader base of participants is needed in order to give the results generalizability. The current study does not include an expansive pool of subject, and its results are inhibited due to this fact. The small liberal arts institution this research was conducted at consists of a very homogeneous population. It would be interesting to conduct this research with a more expansive, diversified population. Accordingly, the results may provide different findings. 
   The mere-repeated-exposure paradigm illustrates that the more one is exposed to a stimulus, the higher the preference for that stimulus becomes (Zajonc, 2001). Zajonc (1993) explains that it is not simply “subjective impressions or familiarity” that create these preferences, but the objective history of exposures to the stimuli. In effect, volunteering with any population, as well as the elderly, can help the individual increase positive views on that particular population. The present studies findings provide further support for this idea.
Practical Implications
   Although the findings of the current study indicate that individuals who have volunteered with the elderly hold less negative views than those who have not volunteered with the elderly, further research in this area can provide a broader foundation for this claim. The main confounding factor to this study seems to lie in the number and homogeneity of the participant population. Also, a more direct measure of attitudes could be utilized if one has a larger amount of time. As cited in Palmore’s The facts on Aging Quiz, Rosencranz and McNevin’s survey (1969) for measuring attitudes on the aged is ideal when provided with adequate time and participant cooperation. However, it is felt that the current study was moderately successful in achieving its objectives with the resources made available. Hopefully, future research can further these objectives and provided more concrete results in support of the hypothesis. 
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