Tag Archives: stereotypes

Let’s Talk About Sex — After 60


By Christina Pierpaoli Parker, MA (Geropsychology Doctoral Student, University of Alabama)



Science has started to pay attention to what happens between the sheets after 60, especially as medical advances permit us to live longer and healthier lives. Emerging research shows that older adults get busier than we think, finding that many adults remain sexual well into their 90s. As with other periods of development, sex in later life improves quality of life, mood, and health.


The Problem

But sex after 60 still has its consequences. Spikes in sexually transmitted disease (STDs) among older adults illustrate that. Compared to younger folks, older adults know less about STDs, underestimate their risk of infection, and practice safe sex less often. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reflect this, reporting that adults over 50 represent 15% of new HIV infections. By 2020, upwards of 70% of persons living with HIV will be 50 or older. Other STDs including chlamydia, gonorrhea, primary and secondary syphilis, show similar increases in older groups.


What’s going on?

Experts offer two explanations: (1) Treatment advances, such as antiretroviral therapy, have enabled already infected adults to live longer, inflating prevalence; and (2) the number of new infections (incidence) among older adults is increasing.


Fine, but why are adults becoming infected at all?

Growth in new infections altogether means recognizing that sex doesn’t retire after 60. Complex interactions of biopsychosocial factors underlie the incidence of STDs among older adults.


Biological factors. With normal aging, older adults experience changes in immune function, increasing their vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases. For example, the number and maturity of their T- cells—white blood cells that help fight infection—decrease, depressing immune responsiveness and aiding transmission.  Systemic reductions in testosterone and estrogen can thin the vaginal and anal mucosae and reduce vaginal lubrication, leaving many older men and women susceptible to tears during sex that can facilitate viral entry.


Psychological & behavioral factors. Older adults underestimate their risk for contacting sexually transmitted diseases. A recent study comparing actual and perceived sexual risk found that older adults with the greatest risk of contracting STDs were also the group least aware of their vulnerability. Cohort differences surrounding the 1960s rise of penicillin to treat STDs like syphilis may skew older adults’ identification with risky sexual behavior, explaining low rates of condom use among boomers especially. The widespread availability of erectile dysfunction medications in a climate of shifting divorce and dating patterns in later life— when menopause hits and pregnancy ends— have intersected to create more opportunities for sex and infection.


Sociocultural factors. Of course, older adults aren’t entirely to blame. Stereotypes, taboos, and biases about aging and sexuality perpetuate misconceptions surrounding late life sex, trickling down into clinical practice. For example, physician-initiated sexual history taking remains suboptimal among older adults, despite CDC recommendations requiring patients of all ages to receive comprehensive STI/STD education and evaluation. A powerful study revealed that few men (38%) and even fewer women (22%) had discussed sex with a physician since age 50, consistent with findings describing the inverse relationship of age and frequency of sexual health discussions. Other studies simply find that practitioners feel uncomfortable initiating sexual health discussions with older adults.  Prevailing interpretations of these findings conclude that practitioners’ attitudes and beliefs about sex in later life may stem from stereotypes of aging and sexuality, rather than experiences with, or explicit education about, late life sexuality.


Where do we begin? A call to action

Sex researchers and educators alike have long pointed to the positive contributions of sex education to healthy sexual attitudes and behavior, but adult-specific models remain breathtakingly scarce. Psychologists must therefore work to develop, implement, and evaluate adult sex education protocols for practitioners and older adults on:

  • Increasing knowledge about sexual health and functioning, as well as their changes, in later life;
  • Growing understanding of the biopsychosocial contributions to sexual risk in older adulthood; and
  • Promoting growth in physician and patient comfort to discuss sexual concerns


Recent precedent supports this as a good starting point: internal medicine residents who received three brief 30-minute tutorials on sexual history taking demonstrated improved documentation of older adults’ sexual histories than those who did not.


Steps you can take right now

We’ve got a long way to go before the paradigm shifts. Here’s what you can do to nudge it:

  1. Pause to assess, recognize, and reflect on your biases. What attitudes and beliefs do you have about late life sexuality? Where do they come from and how do they serve you? How and why should you challenge them?
  2. Practice the kind of sex you’d encourage your child or loved one to have. Sex that’s safe, consensual, and well lubricated.
  3. Have the knowledge and courage to ask questions. If you’re a health care provider working with older folks, ask about their sexual concerns; research says adults appreciate it. If you’re an older adult, share your sexual concerns with your health care provider—a competent professional will work with you or direct you to someone who can.
  4. Learn more. Explore the references included throughout this piece to get more (scientifically sound) information.
  5. Embrace sexuality as a lifelong, developmental process that improves with age. Isn’t that more fun, anyway?





Christina Pierpaoli Parker, MA, is a fourth-year graduate student in the Clinical Geropsychology doctoral program at the University of Alabama under the co-mentorship of Drs. Forrest Scogin and Martha R. Crowther. Her research and clinical work explore the intersection of older adults’ physical and psychological health, focusing on the adjustment to and behavioral management of chronic health conditions (e.g., HIV, metabolic syndrome, osteoarthritis). Current interests include developing psychoeducational interventions for understanding, treating, and improving sexual dysfunction in later life. Christina’s work has been published in the Journals of Aging & Health, Sex & Marital Therapy, and The Clinical Gerontologist and presented at international conferences. She translates her academic research for Eng(aging), her widely acclaimed blog on Psychology Today, which has landed her interviews as aging expert on The Psychology Podcast with Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman and The Aging Literacy Podcast with Dr. Bill Thomas. Her forthcoming book, Trixxx Aren’t Just For Kids, written with Dr. Elizabeth DiNapoli, explores the science and stories of sex in later life.


Is Poking Fun at Birthdays a Harmless Way to Celebrate Them?


By Sheri R. Levy, PhD, & MaryBeth Apriceno (Stony Brook University)


Have you ever noticed that the tone of birthday cards for children is upbeat with messages like, “way to go, you’re another year older”? Whereas that is rarely the theme in cards for adults older than 21, at least in the United States.


Next time you find yourself in a card store, read through a few birthday cards for adults. You might find one or two cards with an upbeat and pro-age sentiment like “Fifty and fabulous.”  More likely you’ll encounter a lot that reiterate false and negative stereotypes of aging and older adults — cards that exaggerate the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, depict dramatic age-related physical changes, portray older adults as very unattractive and cranky, as well as cards that suggest older adults lack sexual interest or have inappropriate sexual interest.  Nothing appears to be off limits.


Likewise, the aisles for adults at party supply stores are often devoted to party supplies and gifts poking fun of older adulthood. Here you’ll encounter a lot of “over the hill” themed party supplies such as balloons and serveware. You’ll also likely see favors and gifts that refer to ageist stereotypes, like signs that say “CAUTION, slow senior zone,” over the hill potty night lights, over the hill emergency diaper kits, and over the hill canes equipped with a horn, plastic chattering teeth, and a mini fine-extinguisher.


Funny or foul?


Birthday cards and gifts that poke fun of older adulthood are communicating negative ageist stereotypes found in society, including negative depictions of older adults in books, movies, and television. Together, these negative stereotypes and images take a toll on older adults.  Negative ageist messages may be internalized over the course of a lifetime and cause older adults to adopt an older self-image.  Older adults may then tailor their behaviors to these learned stereotypes, resulting in more sedentary lifestyles, decreases in cognitive functioning, decline in overall health, and a shorter lifespan (see Levy, 2009). Such effects may be amplified in women who face ageism as well as sexism (see Chrisler, Barney, & Palatino, 2016).


Widespread sale of birthday cards and supplies poking fun of older adulthood indicates the accepted nature of the stereotypes they communicate and the pressing problem of ageism. In fact, the World Health Organization (2015) has noted, “Ageism may now be more pervasive than sexism or racism.”


Ageism affects society. It can limit intergenerational contact and undermine intergenerational harmony. It contributes to age discrimination in the workplace, worse health care and poorer health for older adults, as well as financial and physical abuse of older adults.


“The world is in the midst of a unique and irreversible process of demographic transition that will result in older populations everywhere” (United Nations, 2014).

It is more important than ever to take steps to reduce ageism, and this includes no longer tolerating cards and gifts that poke fun of aging and older adults.


If you would like to learn more about this topic, the following might be of interest to you:


Chrisler, J., Barney, A., & Palatino, B. (2016). Ageism can be hazardous to women’s health: Ageism, sexism, and stereotypes of older women in the health care system. Journal of Social Issues, 72(1), 86-104. doi: 10.1111/josi.12157

Demos, V., & Jache, A. (1981). When you care enough: An analysis of attitudes toward ageing in humorous birthday cards. The Gerontologist, 21, 209-215.

Levy, B. R. (2009). Stereotype embodiment: A psychosocial approach to aging. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(6): 332-336.

Levy, S.R. (2016). Toward reducing ageism: PEACE (Positive Education about Aging and Contact Experiences) Model. The Gerontologist. 10 AUG 2016, doi: 10.1093/geront/gnw116

Levy, S.R., & Macdonald, J.L. (2016). Progress on Understanding Ageism. Journal of Social Issues, 72(1), 5-25. doi: 10.1111/josi.12153

United Nations (2014). Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/ageing/

World Health Organization (WHO; September, 2015). Ageing and Health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs404/en/




Sheri R. Levy, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, USA. She earned her PhD at Columbia University in New York City, USA. Levy studies factors that cause and maintain prejudice, stigmatization, and negative intergroup relations and that can be harnessed to reduce bias, marginalization, and discrimination. Her research focuses on bias based on age, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation, and social class.  With Jamie L. Macdonald and Todd D. Nelson, Levy co-Edited a special issue of Journal of Social Issues on “Ageism: Health and Employment Contexts” (Levy, Macdonald, & Nelson, 2016). Levy’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, and Levy publishes her research in journals such as Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Child Development, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Social Issues and Policy Review. Levy was Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Social Issues from 2010-2013 and is a Fellow of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (Division 9 of American Psychological Association).


MaryBeth Apriceno is a graduate student and teaching assistant at Stony Brook University. She received her BA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her research investigates factors that affect ageist attitudes, aging anxiety, and self-stereotyping.


Image source: Flickr user tawest64 via Creative Commons



Filed under: Aging, Health Disparities Tagged: age discrimination, ageism, aging, stereotypes, stereotyping

3 Essential Tips to Help All Kids to Embrace Their Race and Ethnicity


This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res


By Chelsea Derlan, PhD (Asst. Professor of Developmental Psychology, Arizona State University)


In their daily lives, children receive many direct and subtle messages involving their racial-ethnic background from others:


“But how can he be your dad? You don’t match.”


“You should put on sunscreen because you don’t want to get too dark.”


“I always thought Black people couldn’t swim. You act White though, maybe that’s it.”


Although we cannot control every interaction our child has with others, what we can do is build up positive messages that influence the effect these interactions have on them. For example, what if we had engaged in racial-ethnic socialization (RES) that involved the following messages:


“You are such a perfect mix of mine and your fathers’ cultures.”


“You have beautiful brown skin. I love how you get darker in the sun.”


“Your ancestors are Black kings and queens. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

The RES we provide can have profound effects on our children’s well-being. Here are a few tips:


1. RES is important for all children.

It is important that we talk about race-ethnicity with children – all children. A recent ethnic-racial identity intervention study provided an opportunity for teenagers to explore their culture and develop a clearer sense of what their ethnicity-race meant to them. Participating had positive effects on youth from all racial-ethnic backgrounds.

As caregivers, we can set up similar opportunities by providing a space for our children to ask questions, process, and learn. Given our unique histories and everyday realities, we will want to tailor messages based on our children’s specific culture and experiences. For example, we might choose to prepare children for bias they may encounter, highlight stories of their ancestors, or build pride in their appearance. For ideas and activities, check out 25 mini-films for exploring race-ethnicity.


2. It is never too early to start.

Caregivers often wonder when it is the right time to begin RES. The answer is that it is never too early to start. Research tells us that by kindergarten, many children already know what their race-ethnicity is, and use race-ethnicity as a way to understand themselves and others. We know that when caregivers engage in RES it has positive effects on children’s academics, behavior, and language skills.

An important thing to keep in mind is to craft messages so they make sense to children based on their age and level of understanding. Very young children tend to focus on the parts of culture that they can see, such as skin tone and hair. For example, with Black children, you might start with books or videos that highlight how all hair is good hair, skin comes in lots of wonderful shades, or that feature Black boys and Black girls as main characters. Sometimes it is easiest to simply start talking, and other times it is helpful to read a book or watch a video, and then build a conversation afterwards.


3. Don’t give up!

Despite our most dedicated efforts, there will be times when children question and/or disagree with our teachings.

I came across an article in which a mother wrote about a time when her daughter said: “Mommy, I don’t want to be Black like you.” After talking to her daughter she realized that

“… it wasn’t that my daughter didn’t want to be Black, she was simply struggling to deal with her perception and understanding of who she is. Realistically, I know how the world will view her, and I can’t shield her from it. What I can do is make sure she knows who she is, that she is loved, and that she loves herself, fully.”

Although times like these can be discouraging, we can’t give up. We have to listen, and remember that the ways our children are understanding and interpreting their experiences may not always match our own.


RES is a process that involves many lessons over time. As children have different experiences, new things will pop up. Our goal is to create a support system so they know there is someone they can go to who will talk and/or listen. It is about planting those positive seeds for them that they can water when they need to. It is an opportunity for us to show our children love and compassion, to help them understand themselves, and to prepare for a better tomorrow with our children today!


Learn more:

Start healthy conversations about race/ethnicity with your kids today. Download APA’s RESilience Parent Tip Tool




Chelsea Derlan, PhD, is an assistant professor of developmental psychology at Arizona State University. Broadly, her work examines how risk factors (e.g., discrimination) and resilience factors (e.g., cultural socialization) inform ethnic-racial minority youths’ positive psychological, academic, and health outcomes. Guided by cultural ecological models, she considers the role of family, school, and other key contexts. Her research is focused in two main areas:

(a) assessing what young children understand and feel about their culture (i.e., ethnic-racial identification), and how this plays a role in development, and

(b) examining the interplay between individual and contextual factors as they inform adolescents’ ethnic-racial identity and adjustment.


Image source: iStockPhoto.com

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: children's mental health, ethnic identity, ethnicity, parenting, race, racial and ethnic socialization, racial identity, resilience, stereotypes, stereotyping

How Do We Blunt the Impact of Ageist Stereotypes?

Senior woman make-up face on white background

By Jeff McCarthy, MA (University of Windsor) & Anne Baird, PhD (University of Windsor)

In Western societies, negative stereotypes about being an older person predominate. However, these patterns vary across groups and across times. Typically, researchers study ways to diminish the negative impact of stereotypes on two groups:

  • younger adults, to whom these negative stereotypes are not applied by others or themselves4
  • older adults, to whom these negative stereotypes likely are applied both by others and themselves.

Reducing the impact of these stereotypes on older people themselves has been the subject of some interesting recent studies.


When we look at the way older people are shown in and participate in traditional and social media, we see both progress and continued shortcomings. On the one hand, a study of Super Bowl commercials from 2010 to 2014 suggested more appearances of older characters than in earlier traditional media1. Moreover, the portrayal of these characters overall was more positive than in the past.


On the other hand, the use of social media by older people and the description of them in these media are far from optimal. Social media are potential avenues for older people to address ageism directly and advocate for themselves, but inaccessibility of design, failure to appreciate the value of social media, and worries about privacy keep some older people from pursuing these avenues9.


A review of over 80 public Facebook groups related to aging uncovered overwhelmingly unfavorable comments about older people in all but one5. In addition to the lack of participation by older people, Levy and colleagues5 give several reasons for this harsh negative bias. These reasons include:

  • the fact that creators of these sites were younger rather than older people
  • the known tendency for stereotypes of all kinds to become more negative as an individual’s contact with social media increases5.

The lack of participation by older people and the prominence of negative aging stereotypes on social media work to accentuate unfavorable views about aging9.


So, how do we deal with this?


Most people would be tempted to shine a light on these negative stereotypes. By bringing them to attention, we can reduce them, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be that easy. Ironically, while some interventions with explicit focus on the stereotypes may help (e.g., imagined intergroup contact10), there is growing evidence that this approach can backfire.


Many education-based interventions that provide information regarding stereotypes essentially suggest suppressing thoughts about negative stereotypes, which usually doesn’t work. For example, try not to think about a pink elephant — what are you thinking about now? Further, teaching groups about stereotype threat may serve to activate these same threats later7. Even explicit focus on positive age-related stereotypes can end up reinforcing antiquated beliefs — both negative and positive3.


Research has shown that as we get older, we increasingly perceive ourselves to feel younger than our chronological age11. These perceptions may shield us from negative stereotypes. In fact, some older people do not identify themselves as a member of their chronological age group; a term called “age-group dissociation.”


Age-group dissociation may:

  • protect older people from applying negative age stereotypes to themselves,
  • reinforce their feelings of being more youthful than their chronological age, and
  • expand their sense of future time left11.


However, there also may be unfavorable effects of age-group dissociation. Older people who do not view themselves as such may not complete important tasks, such as writing advanced directives11. In other words, age-group dissociation probably is not an entirely satisfactory response to negative stereotypes about getting older.


On a more positive note, recent research suggests that self-compassion may be key to developing more balanced beliefs about one’s status as an older person2,8. Using self-compassion to blunt the effect of negative aging stereotypes in older people is a relatively new strategy, although self-compassion and the related constructs of self-acceptance and self-love are not new6. Self-compassion can be defined as unconditional care towards oneself when one is going through difficult times8.


Phillips and Ferguson8 found that higher self-compassion was linked with more positive affect and a greater sense of personal wholeness and meaning in older people. Similarly, greater self-compassion in middle-aged women was associated with more positive attitudes towards aging2. Helping older people nurture self-compassion may be a better way to reduce the influence of negative aging beliefs on older people than a direct attack on those stereotypes.



1Brooks, M., Bichard, S., & Craig, C. (2016). What’s the score?: A content analysis of mature adults in Super Bowl commercials. Howard Journal of Communications27(4), 347-366. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10646175.2016.1206046

2Brown, L., Bryant, C., Brown, V., Bei, B., & Judd, F. (2015). Self-compassion, attitudes to ageing and indicators of health and well-being among midlife women. Aging & Mental Health20(10), 1035-1043. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2015.1060946

3Kay, A., Day, M., Zanna, M., & Nussbaum, A. (2013). The insidious (and ironic) effects of positive stereotypes. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology49(2), 287-291. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2012.11.003

4Kotter-Grühn, D. (2015). changing negative views of aging: implications for intervention and translational research. Annual Review Of Gerontology And Geriatrics35(1), 167-186. http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/0198-8794.35.167

5Levy, B., Chung, P., Bedford, T., & Navrazhina, K. (2014). Facebook as a site for negative age stereotypes. The Gerontologist54(2), 172-176. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geront/gns194

6Muris, P., & Petrocchi, N. (2016). Protection or vulnerability? A meta-analysis of the relations between the positive and negative components of self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/cpp.2005

7Nelson, T. (2015). Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (2nd ed.). New York: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

8Phillips, W., & Ferguson, S. (2012). Self-compassion: a resource for positive aging. The Journals Of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences And Social Sciences68(4), 529-539. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbs091

9Trentham, B., Sokoloff, S., Tsang, A., & Neysmith, S. (2015). Social media and senior citizen advocacy: an inclusive tool to resist ageism? Politics, Groups, And Identities3(3), 558-571. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21565503.2015.1050411

10Turner, R., Crisp, R., & Lambert, E. (2007). Imagining intergroup contact can improve intergroup attitudes. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations10(4), 427-441. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1368430207081533

11Weiss, D., & Lang, F. (2012). “They” are old but “I” feel younger: Age-group dissociation as a self-protective strategy in old age. Psychology and Aging27(1), 153-163. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0024887




Jeff McCarthy is a PhD candidate in the Clinical Neuropsychology program at the University of Windsor in Ontario. His clinical and research interests involve incorporating technology, therapeutic assessment, and a focus on everyday functioning into neuropsychological rehabilitation and management of neuropsychology disorders. He also has an explicit focus on prospective memory and its function in both healthy adults and in those with acquired brain injury and memory impairment.


Dr. Anne Baird is an Associate Professor on the Clinical Neuropsychology track in the Psychology Department at the University of Windsor in Ontario. She has a long-standing research and clinical interest in understanding and supporting everyday function and problem-solving in normal and cognitively-impaired older people.


Image source: iStockPhoto

Filed under: Aging Tagged: ageism, aging, healthy aging, self-acceptance, self-compassion, stereotype threat, stereotypes, stereotyping

Are You Guilty of Positive Ageism?


By Sharron Hinchliff, PhD (Senior Lecturer, University of Sheffield UK)

Every year, on October 1st,  we celebrate the International Day of Older Persons. The theme for 2016 is ‘Take a Stand against Ageism.’

What is ageism?

Ageism is the term used to describe prejudice towards and/or discrimination against an individual based on their age. It is rooted in stereotyping, where we cluster perceived traits together and make assumptions based on social categories. Its effects can be powerful and damaging.

Ageism against older people is widespread, and in Western countries we hear about:

  • people not being allowed to serve on a jury after age 70,
  • older patients not being given the same advice about a health condition as their younger counterparts,
  • the fewer opportunities to progress at work once one is past the age of 50, and
  • the older woman who is unlikely to be believed when she reports her sexual assault.

These are just a few examples.

People are treated differently because of their (older) age on a regular basis, and we are not always attuned to it. Ageism is taken for granted so much so that we may not even notice it when it is happening. It is something that can affect us all and is more tolerated than racism and sexism, with many arguing that it is ‘socially-condoned’ (North & Fiske, 2012).

Ageism can affect young people, but it is mainly thought about in relation to old people. And because it is a form of discrimination and prejudice, it can be negative or positive. However, we rarely hear about the latter and as a consequence few recognize that ageism has this alternative side.

What is positive ageism or ‘sageism’?

You may have heard the saying ‘the older the wiser’? It connects with stereotypes of older people as having gained wisdom through their longevity and life experiences (Palmore, 1999), and has been described as ‘sageism’ (Minichiello, Browne & Kendig, 2000: 268):

“With sageism, people interact with older people as venerated elders who are respected for their knowledge and experience. There is potential for negative effects, however, if the elder cannot meet such expectations.”  

They go on to describe how, in their study, older participants felt that they were being sought out for their wisdom and listened to more. However, older people did not always enjoy this ‘unexpected respect’ as it created a pressure when they could not live up to these expectations but did not want to let the younger people down.

Indeed, Jill Chonody (2016) argues that positive stereotypes of older people

‘may appear to be emphatic, but they are actually paternalistic in nature and support ageist behaviours, which can be detrimental to older adults’ (p.208).

She uses the example of asking older people for advice (a positive ageism item on the Relating to Older People scale):

“There is nothing about age per se that makes individuals better conversationalists or even better at giving good advice. Furthermore, if we replaced old peoplewith another social categorization, such as gay men, these statements would be somewhat laughable (re: I enjoy conversations with gay men because they are gay).” (Chonody & Teater 2016: 12)

Some academics note the link between positive ageing and positive ageism. Positive ageing grew out of a dissatisfaction with ageing being portrayed negatively, and thus it challenges the ageing-as-decline narrative. But, it has an unexpected consequence as it can become a form of ageism in itself. Sally Chivers (2003) applies this argument to older women’s bodies and physical appearance, telling us that positive ageism occurs through the process of promoting an impossible youthfulness and a denial of bodily decline. This is damaging because, as above, it forms an expectation that older women cannot live up to.

The same is happening with regard to older people and sexual activity. In my own work, I have seen a shift over the past few years from older people being viewed as asexual to sexually agentic. By challenging the asexual stereotype, an unintended effect was the creation of a new stereotype where all older people are expected to be sexually active if they are to age well. A failure to maintain sexual agency/autonomy is perceived as submitting to old age.

So, while positive ageism can be positive because it celebrates rather than denigrates older age, it can be detrimental too. In whatever form ageism takes, positive or negative, there is a risk that it does more to reinforce inequality than address it. 



Chivers, S. (2003). From old women to older women: Contemporary culture and women’s narratives. USA: Ohio State University Press.

Chonody, J.M. (2016). Positive and negative ageism: The role of benevolent and hostile sexism. Journal of Women and Social Work, 31(2), 207-218.

Chonody, J. M., & Teater, B. (2016). Why do I dread looking old?: A test of social identity theory, terror management theory, and the double standard of aging. Journal of Women and Aging, 28(2), 112-126.

Minichiello, V., Browne, J., & Kendig, H. (2000). Perceptions and consequences of ageism: Views of older people. Ageing and Society, 20(03), 253-278.

North, M. S., & Fiske, S. T. (2012). An inconvenienced youth? Ageism and its potential intergenerational roots. Psychological Bulletin, 138(5), 982.

Palmore, E. (1999). Ageism: Negative and positive. New York: Springer.



Sharron Hinchliff, PhD, is Senior Lecturer at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Sheffield UK. She has a BMedSci (Hons) and a PhD in psychology. Her research spans the areas of ageing, gender and sexual/reproductive health, as well as the psychology of health and health care. Sharron is co-editing the forthcoming book ‘Addressing the sexual rights of older people: Theory, policy and practice’ which is due for publication in 2017. For further details about Sharron’s work, see sharronhinchliff.com.

Image source: Flickr user Nick Moralee via Creative Commons

Filed under: Aging Tagged: ageism, discrimination, positive ageism, prejudice, sageism, stereotypes, stereotyping, stress

Islamophobia in the U.S.: A Threat to Justice Everywhere


By Muninder Kaur Ahluwalia, PhD (Montclair State University) and Saba Rasheed Ali, PhD (University of Iowa)

A Muslim mom, Melissa Chance Yassini, recently wrote on her Facebook page:

Sad day in America when I have to comfort my 8 year old child who heard that someone with yellow hair named Trump wanted to kick all Muslims out of America. She had began collecting all her favorite things in a bag in case the army came to remove us from our homes. She checked the locks on the door 3-4 times. This is terrorism. No child in America deserves to feel that way.

This scenario illustrates how Islamophobia in the U.S. is making many American Muslims feel unsafe in the country they call home. Islamophobia can be defined as an unfounded dislike, distrust, fear, prejudice, or hatred against Muslims or Islam.

Islamophobia really began during the European enlightenment in early 19th century with the rise of Orientalism. On the Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Stereotypes website , Dr. Edward W. Said characterizes Orientalism in part as the Western depiction of Arab cultures as inferior or even dangerous. This philosophy is believed to be the foundation for modern day Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is exacerbated whenever the U.S. has conflict with Middle Eastern countries or a terrorist attack occurs on Western soil.  Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., Islamophobia has undergone a period of dramatic spikes and declines. Immediately after 9/11 anti-Muslim sentiment rose sharply and then declined until the controversy over the Ground Zero faith center saw an increase in anti-Muslim hostility.

The anti-Muslim rhetoric of the current presidential election coupled with recent terrorist attacks by the so called Islamic State (or ISIS) has also produced another spike in backlash against Muslims according to an article in the New York Times. They reported that the rate of hate crimes directed at Muslims in the U.S. tripled after the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino according to data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.

The result of Islamophobia is discrimination and oppression against not only Muslims, but anyone who “appears” or “sounds” Muslim, including Sikhs and non-Muslim Arabs, and Hindus. Throughout U.S. history, we have falsely assumed that individuals who are visible racial and ethnic minorities are aligned with their country of origin or ancestry to the detriment of their loyalty to the United States. Our history provides numerous examples of this type of systemic oppression, where individuals with minority or marginalized identities were enslaved, denied citizenship, denied the right to vote, had their children taken forcibly from their families, and imprisoned.

In the 1940s during WWII, Japanese Americans living in California were branded as a “foreign enemy,” simultaneously stripped of their homes, property, and possessions and placed into internment camps. This violation of human rights occurred despite the fact that most Americans of Japanese descent expressed their strong allegiance to the U.S. and had never lived in Japan. In 1988, the Civil Liberties Act was signed into law, acknowledging that the treatment of Japanese Americans was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

However, comments and proposals by a number of 2016 presidential candidates  evoke sentiments reminiscent of the 1940s, with political leaders using fear and anger to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment. Presidential candidates have invoked some of the same hysteria regarding Muslims (and Sikhs and Arabs) in the U.S. used for Japanese Americans during WWII. For example, politicians have suggested registering Muslims, banning Muslims from entry into the country, and constant police surveillance of Muslims as options.

Islamophobia can have grave legal, physical health and mental health effects for individuals in the Muslim, Sikh and Arab communities. These consequences parallel those that are faced by individuals with other marginalized and targeted identities, as referenced in APA’s report on discrimination and diversity. Islamophobia is deeply institutionalized in the U.S.

Law enforcement routinely conducts surveillance on Muslim communities, and the TSA often unfairly conducts additional screenings for Sikh boys and men who wear patkas and turbans, asking them to remove their religious head covering and testing their hands for explosives. Increased surveillance of Muslim communities (or those perceived to be Muslim) has been associated with heightened anxiety and stress (see “Under Surveillance and Overwrought: American Muslims’ Emotional and Behavioral Responses to Government Surveillance”).

In addition, there are numerous hate crimes linked to Islamophobia, including the 2012 mass shooting by a white supremacist gunman who targeted and killed Sikhs in their Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurdwara (Sikh place of worship). The gunman misidentified the Sikhs as Muslims because of mass media’s stereotyping of Muslims as people who wear turbans.

When individuals are targeted because of their identity, their persistent experiences with hate crimes and institutionalized oppression can result in anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. In addition, these individuals may internalize the oppression, taking in the negative, faulty messages about them and their communities as truth.

This internalized oppression can directly impact individuals’ feeling that they need to hide or discard their religious identifiers (e.g., the hijab or headscarf for Muslim women, the turban for Sikh men) or cease attendance at their places of worship. The indirect impact of Islamophobia on all minority and marginalized communities is that they feel their position in this country and thereby their rights are precarious. In addition, the impact on larger society is that justice becomes irrelevant.

In the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.”

Islamophobia is a threat to justice and threatens the shared destiny of humankind.

Psychologists, in their roles as mental health practitioners, researchers, educators, trainers, and consultants, have a responsibility to help combat Islamophobia within themselves and in others. Psychological science tells us that it can be done.

The first steps include a greater awareness of self, and an understanding of how privilege and power play out to continue oppression of Muslims, Sikhs and Arabs. From there, education and increased interaction amongst people from different faith and ethnic backgrounds can promote tolerance and respect. This is often referred to in psychology as the contact hypothesis. Even if the contact is not actual, but merely imagined, people can reduce prejudice. The imagine contact hypothesis (i.e., imagining a positive interaction with an outgroup member) has been shown to reduce prejudice against Muslims and other minority groups (for more information, see this meta-analytic test of the imagined contact hypothesis).

And finally, Islamophobia can be fought by openly advocating for respect and humanity. At the beginning of this blog entry, we spoke about the young Muslim girl living in fear. In response to that, U.S. soldiers and veterans from different faiths and ethnic backgrounds publicly stated their intent to protect her, using social media as an exemplary way to counteract widespread discrimination and prejudice directed at Muslim children.


Dr. Muninder K. Ahluwalia is an Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Leadership at Montclair State University.  She earned her PhD in counseling psychology from New York University in 2002.  Her research and teaching have focused on multicultural issues in counseling, the experiences of Sikh Americans since 9/11, intersectionality, and patterns of race and racism in academia. She was awarded the American Counseling Association Counselors for Social Justice ‘Ohana Award in 2012. In addition to her academic work, she currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, and as an advisory board member on the Committee for Diversity and Public Interest for the Counseling Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association. She has previously served as chair of the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs of the American Psychological Association. In her consultation practice, she provides diversity assessment, training, and programming for a wide range of organizations.

Dr. Saba Rasheed Ali is an associate professor of counseling psychology in the Department of Quantitative and Psychological Foundations at the University of Iowa. She earned her PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Oregon in 2001. Her research interest are concerned with issues related to Islam and psychology, feminism, and vocational psychology. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the current chair of the Society for Vocational Psychology. In 2004, she published an article entitled Islam 101: Understanding the Religion and Therapy Implications with her colleagues, William Liu and Majeda Humedian. She has been active in providing webinars, presentations, and workshops to psychologists, mental health providers, and community members on issues related to Islamophobia and Muslim Americans.




Filed under: Culture, Ethnicity and Race, Human Rights and Social Justice Tagged: bias, discrimination, hate crime, islamophobia, prejudice, racial profiling, racism, religious discrimination, stereotypes, stereotyping