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Lifespan development: a social-cultural perspective

Ashman, Ori (2006) Lifespan development: a social-cultural perspective. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis explores some of the social factors that may affect individuals as they age. A lifespan developmental perspective is employed in investigating the effects of societal aging stereotypes on will-to-live and risk-taking skills. Results suggest negative aging stereotypes may have deleterious effects on the elderly, but not young individuals in terms of will-to-live, but have no effect on risk-taking abilities. Furthermore, a cross-cultural analysis of Americans and Japanese reveals robust differences in self-concept between countries, which in turn partially mediate the effects of culture and age on control strategies. It appears culture and age may play important roles in determining individuals' self-concept, motivation, and regulation of behavior.

The first part of Study 1 examined whether stereotypes of aging contribute to decisions the elderly make about when to die. Elderly and young participants (n = 64) were subliminally primed with either negative or positive stereotypes of old age using a computer, and then responded to hypothetical medical situations involving potentially fatal illnesses. Consistent with my prediction, the aged participants primed with negative stereotypes tended to refuse life-prolonging interventions, whereas those primed with positive age stereotypes tended to accept the interventions. This priming effect did not emerge among the young participants for whom the stereotypes were less relevant. The results suggest that socially transmitted negative stereotypes of aging can weaken elderly will-to-live, or at the very least, willingness to pursue medical intervention.

The second part of Study 1 examined whether the older adults demonstrate similar risk-taking skills to the younger adults, and whether this ability is preserved, even after exposure to age stereotypes. Sixteen young and 16 older participants were tested on a risk-taking decision task following exposure to subliminal aging stereotypes. In all conditions, both the old and young participants systematically and equivalently increased their willingness to take risks as risk level decreased. Furthermore, response times were an inverted U shape curve with slower response times recorded at the medium risk level and faster times as risk levels shifted up or down. The findings suggest the ability to make decisions based on risk level is maintained into old age.

Study 2 investigated results reported by a number of studies finding that primary control remains stable in old age, is lower in Asian countries, and that secondary control increases in old age and is higher in Asian countries. I examined whether these patterns may be due to the mediating influence of an interdependent self-concept. In a sample of 557 young and older adults in Japan and the United States, primary and secondary control, age, and interdependence were studied. I found that interdependence partially mediated the influence of culture on secondary control and interdependence partially mediated the influence of age on both primary and secondary control. Findings suggest that interdependence is an important factor that should be considered in trying to understand the determinants of control crossculturally and developmentally.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Psychology
Supervisor(s): Walker, Iain
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