Researchers in a memory lab at Texas A&M University noticed that all the older people coming in as volunteers were really worried about how they’d do.
So the scientists decided to measure how taking a memory test affects a person’s subjective sense of age. Before the test, the 22 participants felt pretty darned good. Even though their average age was 75, they said they felt about 58.
Then they were given a list of 30 nouns, told to study them for two minutes, and then asked to recall as many of them as they could in three minutes. The participants did fine on the memory test. But when they were asked afterward how old they felt, they said they felt about 63; they had aged five years in five minutes.
“It really demonstrates the power of context,” Lisa Geraci , an associate professor of psychology at Texas A&M and a co-author of the study, tells Shots. Putting the test subjects in a situation that reminded them of their greatest fear of aging, Geraci says, affected their self-perception.
The results were published online in the journal Psychological Science.
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