Bad News About Youth Boosts Elders' Esteem
Study Shows Older People See Rise in Self-Esteem When Reading Negative News on Youth
WebMD News Archive
Sept. 1, 2010 -- People over 50 get a self-esteem boost when they read negative news about young adults, a study shows.
Researchers also say young people, when given the choice, would rather read about people their own age and aren't very interested in stories about their elders, whether the articles are positive or negative.
"Our results reflect that the younger readers did not perceive older people as all that relevant," study researcher Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, PhD, of Ohio State University, tells WebMD by email. "They're more concerned with figuring out who they are and where they stand, and those in the same age group appear to provide the relevant comparisons for that."
Knobloch-Westerwick and co-researcher Matthias R. Hastall, a PhD student at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany, studied 276 adults, including 98 between ages 55 and 60 and 178 between ages 18 and 30. The participants were shown what they were told was a test version of a new online news magazine.
Each was given a limited amount of time to look over either a negative or positive version of 10 pre-selected articles. Each article was paired with a photograph depicting someone of the older or younger age group.
Positive and Negative Spin
The experiments were done in a computer lab. Each story focused on one person, but there were two versions -- one that had a positive spin and the other a negative one. The study participants were offered just one of the two versions.
In addition, those in the study were told they wouldn't have time to read all the stories and were instructed to click on the ones they found interesting. The participants were given a random mix of positive and negative stories about both younger and older people.
Older participants were more likely to choose negative articles about younger people, but didn't show a stronger preference for either positive or negative stories about people in their own age group.
Younger people showed low interest in stories about older people, regardless of whether the articles were positive or negative. And they chose to read more positive stories about people in their own age group than negative articles about other young people, Knobloch-Westerwick says.
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."