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The effects of stereotypes of seniors on their perceptions and capabilities to deal with crisis

Research project
Pågående forskning
Project owner
Department of Journalism, Media and Communication

Financier
The Carin Mannheimer award to young researchers and AgeCap – Centre for aging and health

Short description

In the event of crises, the news media have a central role in the dissemination of information to the public and especially to the elderly. Best practice propose that risk communication should be perceived as useful, be action oriented and strengthen us in believing that we can handle the crisis.
But there is an information paradox - the elderly who need crisis information are often stereotyped as weak and vulnerable in crisis reporting. Will the elderly therefore believe that their own ability is worse than it really is to deal with the crisis?
In risk communication research, there is an assumption that negative stereotypes about aging can lead to elderly feeling older and more helpless than they in fact are, but this assumption has not been tested. Based on a large-scale experiment, using the Citizen panel, this assumption is tested.

In the event of a crisis, news media have a central role in the dissemination of information to the general public and in Sweden, especially to senior citizens. A message about crisis management should be perceived as useful, be action oriented and strengthen us in believing that we can handle the crisis. But there is an information paradox - seniors who need crisis information are often stereotyped as weak and vulnerable in crisis reporting. Will seniors, therefore, believe that their own ability to deal with the crisis is worse than it really is?

With regards to the ability to prepare for crises, seniors are often better than younger. On the other hand, we know less about the seniors' perceptions and abilities to cope with crises. There is an assumption within risk communication research that negative stereotypes about aging can lead to seniors feeling older and more helpless than they in fact are, but this assumption has not been tested.

In this study, it is tested if stereotypes of the seniors as weak and vulnerable to a crisis works differently than stereotype of seniors as competent, capable and of good health. This in the way these stereotypes affect their capability to deal with a crisis. The two experimental groups are compared with a third control group that is exposed to a more neutral message of risk communication, through the news aimed at the general public.

The study is based on a large-scale experiment of citizens in Sweden using the Citizen Panel at the University of Gothenburg.

What we know about the importance of messages and aging is that positive messages that emphasize well-being and emotional values justify protective actions more than negative messages in the event of a crisis. We also know that older people's life experiences can be protective and counteract the loss of cognitive skills that poorer working emory can bring about. The study aims to contribute with knowledge about how risk communication can be designed for specific groups and in particular to strengthen seniors perceptions and capabilities to handle crises.