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Perceptions of competence: Age moderates views of healthy aging and Alzheimer’s disease

Berry, Jane M.; Williams, Helen L.; Thomas, Kevin D.; Blair, Jamie

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Jane M. Berry

Kevin D. Thomas

Jamie Blair


Background/Study Context: Older adults have more complex and differentiated views of aging than do younger adults, but less is known about age-related perceptions of Alzheimer’s disease. This study investigated age-related perceptions of competence of an older adult labeled as “in good health” (healthy) or “has Alzheimer’s disease” (AD), using a person-perception paradigm. It was predicted that older adults would provide more differentiated assessments of the two targets than would younger adults.

Methods: Younger (n = 86; 18–36 years) and older (n = 66; 61–95 years) adults rated activities of daily living (ADL), instrumental activities of daily living (IADL), and memory abilities of a female target aged 75 years, described as healthy or with AD. Data on anxiety about aging, knowledge of and experience with aging and AD, knowledge of memory aging, and positive and negative biases toward aging and AD were also collected.

Results: Older adults perceived the healthy target as more capable of cognitively effortful activities (e.g., managing finances) and as possessing better memory abilities than the AD target. As predicted, these differences were greater than differences between targets perceived by younger adults. The interaction effect remained significant after statistically controlling for relevant variables, including education and gender. Additionally, exploratory analyses revealed that older adults held less positively biased views of AD than younger adults, but negatively biased views were equivalent between age groups.

Conclusion: The results demonstrate that mere labels of “healthy” and “Alzheimer’s disease” produce significant and subtle age differences in perceived competencies of older adults, and that biases towards AD vary by age group and valence. Our findings extend the person-perception paradigm to an integrative analysis of aging and AD, are consistent with models of adult development, and complement current research and theory on stereotypes of aging. Future directions for research on perceptions of aging are suggested.


Berry, J. M., Williams, H. L., Thomas, K. D., & Blair, J. (2014). Perceptions of competence: Age moderates views of healthy aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Experimental Aging Research, 41(2), 157-176.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 12, 2013
Publication Date Feb 27, 2014
Journal Experimental Aging Research
Print ISSN 0361-073X
Publisher Taylor and Francis
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 41
Issue 2
Pages 157-176
Publisher URL


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