Posts Tagged ‘Stereotypes’

More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline

July 18, 2015

This post builds on an earlier healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Cognitive Decline.”  That post summarized research in which simulations indicated that the slow down in processing by older adults could be accounted for by the vastly increased amount of information they have managed to store.  The fact that crystalized intelligence, which is learned knowledge, continues to increase as we age supports this view.  Simply put, there is much more information to sift through, hence the processing appears to be slower.  However, in reviewing the research there are other factors contributing to this myth.

There is research on how the brain changes as we age.  However, autopsies have found many individuals whose brains were wracked with the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that are taken as the definitive diagnosis for Alzheimer’s, yet showed no behavioral or cognitive indicators of Alzheimer’s when they were alive.  Consequently, data on changes in the brain should be taken with a grain of salt.

What I find interesting are data indicating that some of the data pointing to poorer memory performance by the elderly are due to stereotypes of the elderly that are believed by the elderly.  This is research showing that the elderly show evidence of memory decline when they think the study is about age differences and memory, but the decline is absent when they think that the study has nothing to do with aging (See the healthy memory blog post, “REDIRECT:  Range of Applications”).  So some of the myth of cognitive aging might be due to the elderly themselves believing in stereotypes about aging.

There is also research showing that, although the elderly know of memory strategies to help them remember, they do not use these strategies because they entail the expenditure of cognitive effort.  That is, they are cognitively lazy.  Unfortunately, this cognitive laziness can foster cognitive decline.  This is where the notion “use it or lose it”  applies.  Similarly, physical decline can be accelerated by laziness and the failure to exercise.

So to reiterate a constant message of the healthy memory blog, it is important to stay cognitively, physically, and socially active throughout one’s lifetime.  Moreover, one should not delay these habits until one advances in age.  They provide a prescription for living a healthy, productive, and enjoyable life.

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REDIRECT: Range of Applications

July 11, 2015

This is the fourth consecutive post on Timothy Wilson’ REDIRECT.  To get some idea of the range of applications for which REDIRECT is appropriate consider the following chapter titles:

Shaping Our Narratives:  Increasing Personal Well-Being
Shaping Our Kids Narratives:  Becoming Better Parents
Just Say…Volunteer:  Preventing Teenage Pregnancies
Scared Crooked:  Reducing Teenage Violence
Everybody’s Doing It…Or Are They?  Reducing Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Surely They Won’t Like Me—Or Will They? Reducing Prejudice
It’s About Me, Not My Group:  Closing the Achievement Gap
Sustained Change:  Finding Solutions

As you can readily see, the application of REDIRECT is wide.  In reading these chapters, you will gain insights into how redirecting personal narratives work.  You will also read about research assessing effectiveness and find that there are many problems for which REDIRECT works, but some intuitively appealing, and sometimes popular programs do not.  The primary problem is that the majority of programs are not evaluated at all.  However, the book includes two websites that provide such information.  The U.S. Department of Education  created a ss))website called the What Works Clearinghouse, which reviews the research literature and provides educating with descriptions of programs that work (  The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado evaluates the effectiveness of programs that attempt to reduce violence and drug used and publishes their results on a website (

There is way too much research above to even attempt to summarize.  However, one that I find most interesting are stereotypical threats covered in It’s About Me, Not My Group: Closing the Achievement gap.  An example of this used the test Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices Test (Raven APM).  There were three experiments.  One in which the Raven APM was described as an IQ test.  The second in which it was described as just a test.  In the third experiment it was simply described as a bunch of puzzles.  One group of students taking the test was White.  The other group of students was black.  When the Raven APM was described as an IQ test there is a large difference in favor of the white students.  When the Raven APM was described as just a test this gap was greatly reduced. However, when the Raven APM was described as just a bunch of puzzles, the black bar graph overtook the white bar graph.

Another example is the elderly.  When thinking that a memory test was about differences between age groups, the elderly group performed more poorly than the younger group.  However, when they were unaware that the memory test was about age, this difference disappeared.  In reality there are some memory tests in which performance improves with age, and others in which it declines with age.  Apparently the memory test involved in this study was age neutral.

Both researchers and individuals need to be aware of this threat of stereotyping.  Researchers need to be sure that there results are not due to stereotypes.  Individuals need to assure themselves that they are not victimized by the stereotype threat.    So it’s not about me, it’s about my group, and even that is not true.  I will not be defined by a stereotype.  Similarly, we need to be careful that we do not define others in terms of stereotypes.