Ability to Inhibit Prejudices Diminishes with Age

As we age we become less able to inhibit prejudiced inferences, relying more on ethnic and sexist stereotypes to interpret situations, research into the science of prejudice suggests.

There are a lot of clichés thrown around about the elderly, but one that seems to be true—or at least is backed up by research—is the belief they tend to be more prejudiced than younger people. This phenomenon—noted in The New York Times as early as 1941—is widely assumed to be the result of socialization. After all, today’s senior citizens grew up in an era when racism was widespread and gays stayed in the closet. Of course they aren’t as open-minded as their children and grandchildren.

A decade ago, a research team led by William von Hippel of the University of Queensland challenged that assumption. The psychologists proposed that older people may exhibit greater prejudice because they have difficulty inhibiting the stereotypes that regularly get activated in all of our brains. They suggested an aging brain is not as effective in suppressing unwanted information—including stereotypes.

Matthew Yglesias recently noted that current marriage equality acceptance in the U.S. decreases with age, suggesting that equal marriage rights are inevitable as the older generations cease to have voting power and/or die. When I consider this in light of the above, however, I wonder if this really is the case?

via Intelligent Life

The abstracts of the two papers discussed in this article: Stereotype Activation, Inhibition, and Aging and Aging and Stereotype Suppression.

1 thought on “Ability to Inhibit Prejudices Diminishes with Age

  1. david

    Even without having seen this story, I was recently thinking the same thing myself. It’s generally accepted that the older (and typically more wealthy) people get, the more conservative they vote. Surely the times have changed, but there’s no obvious guarantee that the young people who currently love Obama and gay marriage will do so their whole lives.

    The thing I’d really like to see is an investigation of why older people are generally more conservative (if indeed that’s even true). The obvious answer is that public morality has drifted left through time leaving the old behind, but this feels simplistic to me. Public disposition on economic issues has hardly flowed in any discernible direction.

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