The Huffington Post:
It’s fair to say that the filmmaker Alexander Payne takes a grim view of aging in America. In last year’s darkly comedic road film Nebraska, the highly praised Bruce Dern plays the alcoholic and incompetent Woody Grant, who suffers under the delusion he has won a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. And Payne’s earlier About Schmidt is unrivaled as the most depressing cinematic depiction of retirement ever. Jack Nicholson plays the title character with sympathy, but there’s no getting around his pathetic and lonely existence. Both Grant and Schmidt are models of decrepitude as well. They embody our worst fears about the elderly body’s inevitable deterioration.
This may be brilliant filmmaking, but it’s not good psychology. Negative caricatures of aging are far too prevalent in our culture — and they are harmful. People, especially as they get older, assimilate such deprecating beliefs about aging, and start acting like the stereotypes, bumbling and shuffling and surrendering autonomy. These stereotypical beliefs are tough to dislodge once they are internalized. Simply telling people to think positively about aging doesn’t work, because the mind is very good at thwarting such explicit lessons.
The results were clear and encouraging. As reported in a forthcoming article in the journal Psychological Science, the implicit intervention significantly strengthened positive stereotypes of aging, and led to positive self-perceptions of aging. The intervention also weakened negative stereotypes and self-perceptions of aging. What’s more, this intervention led to improved physical functioning, suggesting that the volunteers had embodied the idea of healthy aging. The explicit intervention led to no such improvements.
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