“They” Are Old But “I” Feel Younger: Age-Group Dissociation as a Self-Protective Strategy in Old Age

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Abstract

Age becomes an important self-defining aspect particularly during advanced age. With increasing age, negative attributes related to age and aging become salient. Aging-related declines, losses, as well as the finitude of life seem to threaten older adults' sense of self. We hypothesize that older adults will try to avoid the negative consequences of their age group membership by distancing themselves from their age group. Study 1 (N = 544, 65% women; 18–85 years of age) examined the role of age-group identification for self-conception and self-image (subjective age and future time perspective) across the life span. Results show that weakly identified older adults feel younger than their chronological age and report a more expanded future time perspective relative to their same-age counterparts. A second experiment (N = 68, 69% women; 65–85 years of age) tested the impact of age stereotypes on older adults' level of age-group identification. Results suggest that older adults are more likely to psychologically dissociate themselves from their age group when negative age stereotypes are salient. Discussion focuses on (mal)adaptive consequences of age-group dissociation in later adulthood.

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