Wise or decrepit? The effects of age-related primes on a manual aiming task


Age-related stereotypes have a more negative undertone in North America than in eastern regions of the world. Individuals' behaviour, memory, handwriting and walking has been shown to be affected through implicitly primed age-related stereotypes where performance is worse following a negative prime and improved following a positive prime. No research, however, has looked at the effect of age related primes on a manual aiming task. A manual aiming task may allow for more sensitive, trial-by-trial testing of the cognitive processing of age-related stereotypes. The purpose of this project was to investigate the effect that implicit, age-related stereotypes have on an upper-limb reaching task in both older and younger adults. Participants were exposed to four blocks of trials, which were either blocked (positive or negative) or variable (positive and negative), by stereotype. Participants initiated a trial by placing their index finger on a 'start' button at the bottom of the screen. Following what was perceived by the participant as an on-screen "flash" – which was actually the stereotype associated word (e.g., negative stereotype: decrepit) – participants reached to a centrally located target. It was hypothesized that movement parameters in older adults would be affected congruent to the stereotype with which they were primed; younger adults would show less of an effect. Unexpectedly, younger adults move faster when primed with negative vs positive stereotypes, while there was no change in movement parameter seen in older adults. The results imply that trial-by-trial effects of implicit primes may differ from blocked priming protocols.