“There are only two ways to be quite unprejudiced and impartial. One is to be completely ignorant. The other is to be completely indifferent. Bias and prejudice are attitudes to be kept in hand, not attitudes to be avoided.” — Charles Curtis
The definition of prejudice in my dictionary is a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” Preconceptions are our underlying assumptions; they act as the lenses by which we see the world that henceforth color all we see. Just as we seldom notice the unique and familiar smell of our own home unless we’ve been away for quite a while, we often have no idea what our unexamined biases and prejudices are, since we take them so for granted.
“We all decry prejudice, yet are all prejudiced.” — Herbert Spencer
The word ‘prejudice’ carries a heavy implication that some of our inner biases result in harm or injury due to unfounded dislikes and hostilities. While our underlying biases can help us make daily discernments in life, most of us know that preconceptions and prejudgments can be needlessly injurious to others. What may come as a surprise is that we seldom recognize ways our own unconscious stereotypes can boomerang back and harm ourselves.
Recent research shows that one of the best things you can do to positively improve both the length of your life and the life in your years has everything to do with your prejudices and stereotypes.
Improve Your Life by Becoming What You Think
When you think of old people, what are the first five words or phrases that come to mind? It turns out that your answer to this question could make a tremendous difference in your health and longevity in later years.
Recent research shows that our subconsciously adopted “age stereotypes” regarding our expectations of what will happen as we age makes a tremendous difference in how we actually do age. An increasing body of scientific research studies show that when seniors expect that growing older means they will become incapacitated, confused, useless, weak or devalued they are less likely to take preventive steps against such deterioration and they actually will suffer from mental and physical deterioration.
Intriguingly, when seniors believe positive stereotypes about aging, such as that older adults are wise, involved with life and satisfied, such individuals actually experience higher levels of physical and mental wellbeing. A medical research team at Yale University led by Becca Levy reported recently in !e Journal of the American Medical Association that seniors with positive biases toward aging are 44% more likely to fully recover from a bout of disability—better able to bathe, dress and walk than those with negative aging stereotypes. The research team propose that positive age stereotypes are so effective because they operate through several pathways: limiting cardiovascular responses to stress, improving physical balance, enhancing self-efficacy, and increasing peoples’ engagement in healthy behaviors.
Dr. Becca Levy is a pioneer in the field of age stereotypes and aging, and has helped us better appreciate the importance of maintaining a positive mindset around our elders, because their exposure—even subliminally—to negative age stereotypes and expectations can prove debilitating. Levy conducted many laboratory experiments with older people to observe peoples’ reactions to subliminal messages prior to attempting to complete various tasks. Levy noted that seniors who’d subliminally received negative words, such as “decrepit” had worse handwriting and slower walking speeds afterward, whereas those who saw positive words such as “wisdom” did much better.
Dr. Levy studied a database of 600 people who’d been tracked over a period of 23 years, from 1975 to 1998, to see how people’s age stereotypes influence their lives. Levy noted that participants with positive age stereotypes lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with negative stereotypes. “This longevity gap persisted even after variables of age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness and functional health were considered as covariates. Participants were asked at the beginning of the research to answer either “True” or “False” to questions such as, “Things keep getting worse as I get older,” or “as you get older, you get less useful.”
Dr. Levy asks us to be more mindful of the ‘little things’ that add to quite a lot when we interact with seniors. Everything from our tone of voice, attitude, and use of loaded phrases or expressions make a huge difference. Rather than parroting whatever negative stereotypes we might have accumulated, each of us has an opportunity to “think about how to reinforce the more positive aspects of aging,” as Dr. Levy suggests.
Ask yourself again, when you think of old people, what are the first five words or phrases that come to mind? Hopefully you’re now adopting some new, positive stereotypes about the elderly! Pay attention to seniors who demonstrate these positive qualities, and imagine how you and your loved ones can get better and better with each passing year.
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This book encourages you to have fun trying out scientifically verified, laboratory-tested techniques to improve your life with dozens of tips you can use to bring Quantum Jumps into your daily life.
Here’s the video summary of this blog post, with a glimpse inside the book at some of the lovely illustrations: