Ageism and Death: Effects of Mortality Salience and Perceived Similarity to Elders on Reactions to Elderly People
The present research investigated the hypotheses that elderly people can be reminders of our mortality and that concerns about our own mortality can therefore instigate ageism. In Study 1, college-age participants who saw photos of two elderly people subsequently showed more death accessibility than participants who saw photos of only younger people. In Study 2, making mortality salient for participants increased distancing from the average elderly person and decreased perceptions that the average elderly person possesses favorable attitudes. Mortality salience did not affect ratings of teenagers. In Study 3, these mortality salience effects were moderated by prior reported similarity to elderly people. Distancing from and derogation of elderly people after mortality salience occurred only in participants who, weeks before the study, rated their personalities as relatively similar to the average elderly person’s. Discussion addresses distinguishing ageism from other forms of prejudice, as well as possibilities for reducing ageism.