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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006, 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK
Measuring ageism
Pensioners
The test assesses people's attitudes to older citizens
An online, interactive test may reveal the true extent of ageism.

It may be possible to outlaw age discrimination in the work place, but changing the culture of ageism will be much harder.

We still accept differences in treatment on the grounds of age, outside the workplace, which would be unacceptable if these were issues of sex or race.

Understanding why this is, involves measuring how people think and feel about older people and younger people. It is a task which psychologists are now coming to grips with.

Basis of prejudice

In the US, Dr Anthony Greenwald and colleagues have developed a technique called the 'Implicit Association Test' (IAT for short). They believe it can be used to measure automatic attitudes and stereotypes, which may form the basis of prejudice.

Racism has been extensively studied using the IAT and there is also a test to measure ageism.

Click on the country icon appropriate to where you live, read the preliminary information and then select the 'Age IAT' from the list.

Results

Results from the age test reveal that, regardless of what age you are, you probably find it easier to associate 'negative' words with older people and 'positive' words with younger people than you do to reverse the association.

The association of negative attitudes with older people, according to analysis of the test results collected online, is stronger than any negative association measured with regards to race.

However what the test actually means is subject to academic debate. Crucially, there is not yet any proof which links the Age IAT results to the actual behaviour which people taking the test exhibit towards older and younger people.

Dr Aiden Gregg at Southampton University explains that the test results may not be showing us 'how ageist we are' but telling us something more general and perhaps even inherent in society. For example 'It might be expressing that, given a choice, we'd all rather be young than old.'

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