The portrayal of older characters in television commercials has over time become more varied and positive. This study examines how different portrayals of older characters relate to self-stereotyping, a process through which older individuals apply their beliefs about older people in general to themselves and behave accordingly. The study thereby seeks to connect, as few have previously done, cultural studies and critiques of media portrayals with psychological studies of the effects of self-stereotyping. Sixty participants aged 65–75 years were primed with television commercials that portrayed older characters in different ways: ‘warm and incompetent’, ‘warm and competent’, and ‘cold and competent’. It was hypothesised that priming with warm/incompetent portrayals would have a negative effect on memory performance because such representations match the dominant stereotype, and that the effect would occur only among older people who identify with their own age group. It was found that the participants who identified with their own age group did indeed show impaired memory performance after priming with warm/incompetent portrayals, but also that the same effect was found after priming with warm/competent portrayals. The findings are discussed in terms of resistance against stereotyping by older individuals themselves as well as by media producers.
Westerhof, G. J., Harink, K., van Selm, M., Strick, M., & van Baaren, R. (2010). Filling a missing link: the influence of portrayals of older characters in television commercials on the memory performance of older adults. Ageing & society, 30(5), 897-912. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0144686X10000152