¡Word(s) Count! 



What's in a Name?

The words we use to describe ourselves are both a reflection of and an influence on the way we think about our place in the world. Many of our beliefs are shaped by what is known as implicit bias, meaning that our beliefs and decisions are often a product of our unconscious. While this helps us manage information in a complex, changing world, it can also negatively influence the way we treat one another. We are not aware of our own implicit bias until we consciously start to think about our beliefs. Ageism is often a product of implicit bias, and how we think about and talk about growing older reflects these biases. In surveying the public about common words used to describe older adults, Reframing Aging found that the word "senior" garnered the least respect in terms of competency, while "older adult" was viewed as most competent. The public also defined "older adults" as being in their mid 50s, however (ahem), so the term "older person" is thought to most accurately represent people beyond that age.

According to the findings of the Reframing Aging project, the public view of older adults is based on stereotypes that provide a "can't win" view of aging. Studies show that when older adults are viewed as "least competent" they are also viewed as being "warmer" personalities. The more competent a person is thought to be, the less warm they are.

Societal views of what it means to be older contribute to the ways we think about ourselves as we age. While choosing to use words to describe ourselves and others can feel like an insignificant act, our choices, however unconscious, are part of a larger social system that both influences and reflects how we treat older people, say when it comes to funding programs or working towards a more inclusive society. For more complete strategies and approaches to discussing aging issues, check out the Reframing Aging Initiative. If you are interested in exploring more about the concept of implicit bias, visit Project Implicit.


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