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Levy, 1996

Two studies examined the effects of elderly stereotype activation on memory performance. In Experiment 1, men and women 60 years of age and older (average age = 73) volunteered for a study on memory improvement. All participants completed an exercise that involved the subliminal presentation of stimuli to activate either negative (e.g., decline, dependent) or positive (e.g., wise, enlightened) stereotypes of the elderly. Individuals then were randomly assigned to receive an explicit external attribution for success in the upcoming memory task (that light exposure will help their memory), an explicit internal attribution for success (that they were in a placebo condition so their memory success will be due to their effort) or no feedback. Results showed that memory performance varied as a function of subliminal presentation of age-related stereotypes but not as a function of explicit attributions. When negative stereotypes were made accessible, even without participants' conscious awareness, memory performance generally suffered. Memory improved with unconscious exposure to positive aging stereotypes. In Experiment 2, men and women between 18-35 years of age (average = 26) generally showed few effects of subliminal exposure to the elderly stereotypes, with the exception of some increased memory performance in the negative stereotype condition. These studies suggest that even unconscious exposure to group stereotypes can introduce stereotype threat and reduced performance in individuals who identify with the group. 

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