Implicit theories of aging : predictions of developmental change in parents versus generalized adults




Vernon, Anne Elizabeth

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Two studies were conducted to investigate how normative conceptions of aging compare with adult children's expectations of change for their parents. In Study 1, the Implicit Theories of Aging Questionnaire (ITAQ) was developed to assess implicit theories of aging as pertaining to either one's mother, one's father, the average woman, or the average man. Respondents rated various aspects of everyday functioning as to (a) the direction and degree of expected change versus stability across the latter portion of the adult life course, (b) the estimated age of change onset, and (c) the target's ability to influence change. The second study replicated findings of the first, and extended it by exploring the relationship between implicit theories of aging and factual knowledge about the elderly as measured by Palmore's Facts on Aging Quiz. Results of the two studies indicated that people share highly similar beliefs about the direction, timing, and modifiability of aging-related change. For all four targets, respondents predicted more developmental change than stability and more losses than gains, but there was a strong optimistic bias in developmental predictions for parents. As compared to normative conceptions, parents were expected to undergo significantly fewer and significantly less severe declines in functioning. This optimistic bias did not appear to generalize to other belief components. Both parents and generalized adults were expected to undergo most functional loss during their mid-60s, and were thought to have some ability to influence loss. Judgments of modifiability seemed based in part on the perceived severity and timing of decline. Findings suggested that individuals may distinguish between aging-related loss that occurs through the intensification versus waning of existing attributes and abilities. It was hypothesized that increasing proportions of falsely held beliefs about old age would be correlated with predictions of greater aging-related decline. However, there was no association between misconceptions of aging and developmental beliefs, suggesting a possible distinction between implicit notions of the aging process and group-level generalizations about old age. These results, their generalizability, directions for future research, and practical implications were discussed.



Adulthood, Aging