Friday, 27 February 2015

Ignoring Ageism, Living Longer

Self-stereotypes of ageing, elderly people's beliefs about old people as a category, can have a physiological outcome that is not to be neglected. What is so distinctive about age stereotypes is that they are acquired several decades before the individual is old. In other words, they are learned before "age group self-identities" are developed, i.e., when the individual is still young. By the time the individual is "not so young", the stereotypes have been internalised.
"There is, then, a greater likelihood that younger individuals will accept negative stereotypes about aging as true and that this will continue to occur when the individuals become older and the stereotypes become self-stereotypes. This acceptance diminishes the prospect for defending self-perceptions against negative age stereotypes."

Encountering age stereotypes in younger years makes age stereotypes more acceptable at a later stage; their validity is hardly questioned. Since age stereotypes are rather diffuse, they are said to be more difficult to tackle than stereotypes of other stigmatised groups.

According to various research studies, priming negative age stereotypes has a clear effect on both cognitive and physical abilities (no matter if participants are aware of the primes or if they are subliminal). After negative age stereotype primes, older people show, for instance, heightened cardiovascular response and deteriorated handwriting.

In their study, Levy et al. investigated the link between self-perception of ageing and longevity (sample of 660 individuals aged at least 50). According to their results, those with a more positive self-perception of ageing lived 7.5 years longer than those with a negative self-perception of ageing (even when controlling for age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness, and functional health). 7.5 years is a considerable life span. Ageism is a serious problem and fighting it seems to contribute to life expectancy more than low systolic blood pressure or cholesterol which are associated with a life span of not more than four years (Levy et al., 2002).

Maja Daniels' project "Monette & Mady": "Through my interest in documenting the contemporary western world, I started considering the general lack of visual representations of issues related to older generations. As I found myself in this process, I met Mady and Monette."

"Monette and Mady are identical twins. They have lived their whole life closely together and are, as they say, inseparable. I first saw them on the streets of Paris and I was instantly fascinated by their identical outfits and synchronized corporal language. Quirky and beautiful, they stood out from any crowd. As I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, I remember thinking that they might not be real.
When I approached them I was not surprised to discover that they often finish each other’s sentences and that they refer to themselves as « I » instead of « we »."

"Mady and Monette are indifferent to the many stereotypes that are related to aging. They have in fact long stopped celebrating their birthdays and they defy any preconceived notions related to growing old."

"This series is an intimate journal of their togetherness and as an alternative take on the complex issues that accompanies the notion of “aging” today, I aim to pursue this series over the years as Mady and Monette grow older."

Maja Daniels, photographer

- Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., Kunkel, S. R. & Kasl, S. V. (2002) Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 261-270
- photographs by Maja Daniels via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via