Do middle school students really have fixed images of elders?

Michael J. Lichtenstein, Linda A. Pruski, Carolyn E. Marshall, Cheryl L. Blalock, Yan Liu, Rosemarie Plaetke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Objectives. The purpose of this study was to determine whether combinations of characteristics, abstracted from drawings of elders made by middle school students, grouped together to form cohesive perceptions, or stereotypes, of human aging. Methods. We abstracted 49 characteristics from drawings of elders made by 1,944 students at two middle schools in San Antonio, Texas, at the beginning of the 1998-1999 school year. Correlational and factor analyses were used to determine if there was an underlying structure or grouping to the characteristics. Logistic regression was used to determine the variables associated with the investigators' classification of the images as positive, neutral, or negative. Results. The standardized alpha coefficient for the 49 variables was low (α = 0.37). The Spearman rho correlations between the variables were also low, with 90.2% of the 1,176 comparisons being < 0.10. Exploratory factor analyses did not provide a useful grouping of characteristics drawn by the students, including analyses stratified by gender and restricted to the most common 34 characteristics. Among the 49 characteristics that emerged from the drawings, 11, 4, and 11 traits were directly associated with classifying the drawings as positive, neutral, or negative, respectively. Discussion. These analyses indicate that middle school students have not formed strong images regarding aging: No clear cohesive stereotypes of elders emerged from the images drawn by these children. Absence of stereotypic views implies that middle school students may not have a built-in bias toward older people and age-associated changes. This suggests that young adolescents are at a point where instruction including gerontological content can be used to effectively teach about aging and health promotion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S37-S47
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


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