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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Bad News About Youth Boosts Elders' Esteem

Study Shows Older People See Rise in Self-Esteem When Reading Negative News on Youth

Positive and Negative Spin continued...

After the participants finished browsing and clicking, they filled out a short questionnaire aimed at measuring their self-esteem. Knobloch-Westerwick says the younger people showed no differences in self-esteem, based on what they'd read.

But the more that older people read negative stories about younger people, the higher their self-esteem tended to be.

"Now we know why older people liked reading about the younger people -- they were looking for negative stories about them," she says in a news release. "Our new results go along with other research showing that people's social identity helps shape what media messages we choose. Age is just one type of social identity which may affect media choices."

Youth-Focused Culture

All 276 people in the study were Germans, but Knobloch-Westerwick tells WebMD that nationality doesn't really matter because both the U.S. and German cultures are youth-focused.

"I am convinced it would be the same, if not more extreme, in the U.S." she says, adding that her view is "just my personal impression that the emphasis on youth is greater in the U.S."

She says age "is just one criterion by which people may feel different from others" because "it helps with putting up with aspects of your life where you haven't exactly hit the jackpot, at least in comparison to others."

"Our findings show that older people consume news selectively to bolster a positive view of themselves and their own social group," she tells WebMD.

She says she has shown in previous research that "people selectively attend to media messages that align with their political viewpoints, which, in turn, strengthens their self-perceptions as a 'conservative' or 'liberal.'"

In both cultures, youth is considered important for society and older people tend to be portrayed in a negative light, she says.

Because older people know this, reading negative stories about younger people, who enjoy a higher status in society, may make those over 50 feel better about themselves, she says.

The study is published in the September 2010 issue of TheJournal of Communication.

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