Wednesday 19 April 2023

Individualism, Respect and Competence vs Collectivism, Respect and Friendliness

Abstract: Negative views of ageing can lower respect for older adults.Yet, negative views of ageing vary across cultures. Asian collectivistic cultures are assumed to respect older adults more than Western individualistic cultures do. However, recent empirical findings on this cross-cultural comparison have suggested that negative attitudes toward older people are also prevalent, or even more evident in collectivistic cultures than individualistic cultures. Using data from the sixth wave of the World Values Survey, a dataset consisting of 75,650 individuals from 56 societies, we employed Linear Mixed Modeling to test the association between perceived competence of older adults and respect towards them. We also explored and the moderating role of culture on this association. 

In the present study, perceived competence of older adults was indexed as a proportional score representing the relative perception of competence (i.e. relative competence perception = competence / (competence + friendliness). Results showed that individuals tended to respect older adults who were more competent or friendly. Furthermore, individuals who were more individualistic respected older adults more when older adults were perceived to be more competent relative to friendly. This pattern was reversed in individuals who were less individualistic. These findings suggest that whether people who differ on personal individualistic values respect older adults depends on whether older adults are perceived to be competent versus friendly. Findings from this study highlight the importance of changing cultural values on ageism attitudes, especially the potential effects of rising individualism on negative attitudes of ageing in Asia. (Chen & Fung, 2020)

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- Chen, A. X. & Fung, H. (2020). Individualism Increases the Influence of Perceived Competence of Older Adults on Attitudes Toward Them. Innovation in Aging, 4(1), link
- photograph by Andy Sweet (1953-1982) via

Saturday 15 April 2023

The Empathy for Pain on Black Skin

Empathy means being able to understand the thoughts and feelings ... including pain ... of other people and is fundamental in interpersonal life. Empirical research shows automatic responses to the pain of others, reactions that are affected by personality, social relationship with the target, ingroup vs outgroup social categorisation, familiarity for the target, perceived similarity, gender, age, and skin colour.

In their study, Forgiarini et al. examined people's reactions (skin conductance tests) to others' pain depending on skin colour by showing actors experiencing the painful stimuli.

The present research is aimed at providing experimental evidence that automatic, physiological reactions to other people's pain strongly depends on the race of the person in pain, such that pain received by members of other racial groups elicits a much weaker reaction compared with the pain suffered by members of the same group. By presenting participants with a series of video clips, in two experiments we tested whether the reaction to pain of Caucasian (Italian) observers was influenced by the race (Caucasian, Asian, or African) of the person in pain. In the second study we replicate this finding and show that the moderation of empathy is correlated with the individual implicit racial biases.

Results showed that, in general, participants showed significantly greater reactions to painful stimuli than to harmless stimuli. Interestingly, the effect was moderated by the actor's skin colour. Empathic reactios for actors with white skin colour were significantly greater than for actors with black skin colour.

Taken together our findings demonstrate a clear pattern of responses to pain: the extent to which Caucasian observers share the pain experience of other people is affected by the race of the person in pain (Figure ​(Figure4A).4A). Before the stimulus onset, the SCR values show stochastic variations. After observing a painful stimulus administered to the target person, participants’ SCR values increase more for Caucasian targets than for target people of the other races, and the least for African targets. (Forgiarini, Gallucci & Maravita, 2011)

 Possible explanations (literally via):

The racial empathy gap helps explain disparities in everything from pain management to the criminal justice system. But the problem isn’t just that people disregard the pain of black people. It’s somehow even worse. The problem is that the pain isn’t even felt.

A recent study shows that people, including medical personnel, assume black people feel less pain than white people. The researchers asked participants to rate how much pain they would feel in 18 common scenarios. The participants rated experiences such as stubbing a toe or getting shampoo in their eyes on a four-point scale (where 1 is “not painful” and 4 is “extremely painful”). Then they rated how another person (a randomly assigned photo of an experimental “target”) would feel in the same situations. Sometimes the target was white, sometimes black. In each experiment, the researchers found that white participants, black participants, and nurses and nursing students assumed that blacks felt less pain than whites.

But the researchers did not believe racial prejudice was entirely to blame. After all, black participants also displayed an empathy gap toward other blacks. What could possibly be the explanation for why black people’s pain is underestimated?

It turns out assumptions about what it means to be black—in terms of social status and hardship—may be behind the bias. In additional experiments, the researchers studied participants’ assumptions about adversity and privilege. The more privilege assumed of the target, the more pain the participants perceived. Conversely, the more hardship assumed, the less pain perceived. The researchers concluded that “the present work finds that people assume that, relative to whites, blacks feel less pain because they have faced more hardship.”

This gives us some insight into how racial disparities are created—and how they are sustained. First, there is an underlying belief that there is a single black experience of the world. Because this belief assumes blacks are already hardened by racism, people believe black people are less sensitive to pain. Because they are believed to be less sensitive to pain, black people are forced to endure more pain.

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- Forgiarini, M., Gallucci, M. & Maravita, A. (2011). Racism and the Empathy for Pain on Our Skin. Frontiers in Psychology, link
- photograph by John J. White (Chicago, 1973, George Westinghouse High School) via

Friday 14 April 2023

"(...) where aging parents find orphans in their living children."

"Aging presents itself as a social diagnosis to people who reach their 60s. The symbolic representation of old age and subjective relations seem to lead to social and emotional isolation. In families there is a clear divide between grandparents and their grandchildren, as well as elderly parents and their children. We live in a time where aging parents find orphans in their living children. 

The divide between those who don’t wish to be a burden, in one side, and those who do not wish to be burdened in another is a new family setting. Abandoned, therefore, elderly people lose all status they built through life. If human beings are social beings it is in old age that, sadly, it can be noted how affection or affective or sympathetic relationships become something difficult, as though the elderly didn’t have the right to live life with affection or tenderness." (Vilhena Novaes de et al., 2018)

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- Vilhena Novaes de, J., Barreto, A., Madureira, B. & Vilhena de, J. (2018). Being old in the consumption society: body, media and social representation. Gerontology & Geriatrics, 3(2), 188-194.
- photograph by Martin Parr via

Thursday 13 April 2023

Connected by Generations. By Kathleen Woodward.

"I was 10 and on vacation with my father's parents. My grandfather stayed behind (he always did) while my grandmother and I went down to the beach. It was too cold to swim, it was our first day, and so we walked along the water's edge to the rocks at the far end of the shore. I remember climbing those rocks for hours. What we had forgotten, of course, was the deceptive coolness of the sun. We returned to the hotel, our skin painfully, desperately burned. We could put nothing against our bodies. Not a single sheet. We lay still and naked on the twin beds, complaining, laughing, talking. Two twinned, different, sunburned bodies - the body of a 10-year old girl and the body of a 62-year-old woman. 

To my mind's retrospective eye it is crucial that this scene is not a story of the mother and the daughter, a story whose psychoanalytic plot revolves around identification and separation, intimacy and distance (...). Instead it is a story of an older woman (surely a missing person in psychoanalysis) and a young girl who are separated by some fifty years. Yet I do not want to say that the two of them are divided by generations. Rather, they are somehow connected by them." (Woodward , 1995:97)

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- Woodward, K. (1995). Tribute to the Older Woman. Psychoanalysis, feminism, and ageism. in M. Featherstone and A. Wernick (eds) Images of Aging: Cultural Representations of Later Life, pp. 79-96. London: Routledge.
- photograph by Micheal Parr via