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The effects of social comparisons on subjective age and self-rated health

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Document pages: 14 pages

Abstract: Older adults consistently report young subjective age and provide high ratings of their subjective health. The current research examined which social comparisons older adults make when they assess their subjective age and health, as well as the effects of experimentally manipulated social comparisons on these assessments. In Study 1, 146 participants (aged 60 and over) reported to whom they compared themselves when assessing their subjective age or health. In Study 2, 100 participants (aged 60 and over) reported their subjective age and health after receiving feedback that compared them to younger adults or to their peers. Study 1 shows that participants compared themselves primarily to their peer group. Yet, individuals who selected a younger comparison group when assessing subjective age reported a younger subjective age, better self-rated health and more positive expectations regarding ageing relative to those who selected their peers as a comparison group. No equivalent differences emerged in any of the measures when participants were divided by their selection of comparison group after providing their self-rated health ratings. In Study 2, feedback that emphasised the performance of younger people led to reports of younger subjective age relative to feedback that emphasised peer performance, with no equivalent difference for self-rated health. These findings help explain why older adults feel younger and healthier than they actually are. We suggest that older adults use social comparisons as a strategy that protects them from the negative effects of ageing on self-perception.

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