Caregiver & Elder Care News
Elderly Improve Physical Function After Encouraging Subliminal Messages
Challenge was to enable the participants to overcome
negative age stereotypes acquired from society
20, 2014 Want to make elderly people feel better about themselves?
Just flash some positive words about old people on their computer
screens, so fast that they are not even aware they saw them, and see
their attitudes and physical function improve and stay great for weeks.
Thats what some researchers from the Yale School of Public Health
The researchers used what they describe as a novel
intervention method to examine for the first time whether exposure to
positive age stereotypes could weaken negative age stereotypes and their
effects over time, and lead to healthier outcomes.
The study consisted of 100 older individuals
(average age 81 years) who live in the greater New Haven, Connecticut
area. Some of the participants were subjected to positive age
stereotypes on a computer screen that flashed words such as "spry" and
"creative" at speeds that were too fast to allow for conscious
Individuals exposed to the positive messaging
exhibited a range of psychological and physical improvements that were
not found in control subjects. They benefited from improved physical
function, such as physical balance, which continued for three weeks
after the intervention ended. Also, during the same period, positive age
stereotypes and positive self-perceptions of aging were strengthened,
and negative age stereotypes and negative self-perceptions of aging were
"The challenge we had in this study was to enable
the participants to overcome the negative age stereotypes which they
acquire from society, as in everyday conversations and television
comedies," said lead researcher Becca Levy, associate professor and
director of the Social and Behavioral Science Division.
"The study's successful outcome suggests the
potential of directing subliminal processes toward the enhancement of
While it has been previously shown by Levy that
negative age stereotypes can weaken an older individual's physical
functioning, this is the first time that subliminal activation of
positive age stereotypes was found to improve outcomes over time.
The study found that the intervention influenced
physical function through a cascade of positive effects: It first
strengthened the subjects' positive age stereotypes, which then
strengthened their positive self-perceptions, which then improved their
The study's effect on physical function surpassed a
previous study by others that involved a six-month-exercise
intervention's effect with participants of similar ages.
The research will be published online in an
upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.
The research was supported by grants from the
National Institute on Aging; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute;
and the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research
Foundation. The research team also included Corey Pliver of the Yale
School of Public Health, Martin Slade of the Yale School of Medicine,
and Pil Chung of the University of California, Berkeley.