Responses to Patronizing Communication and Factors that Attenuate those Responses
The purpose of this study was to investigate younger (n = 52, ages 18–24) and older (n = 69, ages 61–98) adults’ responses to patronizing communication in terms of (a) performance on a cognitive task (Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale-III block design) and (b) physiological responses (i.e., change in cortisol levels), as well as factors that may attenuate those responses. Participants were randomly assigned to receive instructions for the task using either a patronizing or nonpatronizing speech style. Participants also completed a measure of attitudes about aging and the quantity/quality of their intergenerational interaction. Older adults (relative to younger adults) were found to be more reactive to the patronizing speech style in terms of their performance on the task as well as the change in their cortisol levels. Older adults who had more positive attitudes about aging as well as more positive intergenerational interactions were protected from the performance deficits as a result of patronizing speech style. These findings could be used to inform social programs aimed at reducing age-based stigma and improving the life course outcomes of our aging population.
Psychology and Aging