Self-Perceptions of Aging and Health: The Embodiment of Age Stereotypes.

TitleSelf-Perceptions of Aging and Health: The Embodiment of Age Stereotypes.
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsSun, JK
Academic DepartmentPsychology
DegreePh.D. Psychology
Number of Pages181
Date Published10/2019
UniversityUniversity of Michigan
CityAnn Arbor, MI
KeywordsAging, health, Self-perception, Stereotypes

Age stereotypes are pervasive in contemporary American society. A growing body of research has shown that the internalization of societal age stereotypes can affect older adults’ self-perceptions of aging (SPA), or attitudes towards their own aging process, in ways that can have significant implications for health and well-being. Based on Levy’s stereotype embodiment theory, this dissertation used data from the Health and Retirement Study to examine the behavioral, biological, and psychological processes that potentially underlie the relationship between SPA and health among older US adults. On a behavioral level, Study 1 found that, over a 1-year follow-up, individuals with negative SPA were more likely to delay necessary medical care and report more barriers to care, such as limited access to transportation and disliking going to the doctor. On a biological level, Study 2 considered the association between SPA, perceived discrimination, and changes in cystatin c (a biomarker of kidney function). Over the 4-year follow-up, having more negative SPA was associated with larger increases in cystatin c (e.g., worse kidney functioning) among those who reported being the target of discrimination. On a psychological level, Study 3 investigated the relationship between two different perceptions of the self, self-perceptions of grip strength and SPA, in predicting 4-year change in mobility limitations among adults over age 65. Individuals with more positive SPA had fewer mobility limitations four years later, even after adjusting for measured/perceived grip strength and other risk factors. Having more positive SPA, however, was only predictive of fewer mobility problems among respondents who also perceived their grip strength to be strong, highlighting the importance of considering both domain-specific and domain-general self-perceptions when designing interventions to improve functional health. Together, these studies extend the literature linking SPA and health by investigating proposals about three underlying processes. The final chapter discusses the implications of study findings, with a special focus on the design of interventions to promote more positive attitudes toward aging and the need to change age-related attitudes among health care professionals.

Citation Key10253