O. BOCK ET AL.
soning (Bock, 2005; McNay & Willingham, 1998), that posi-
tive age stereotypes enhanced workaround strategies but not
adaptive recalibration. Somewhat surprisingly, negative primes
had no noticeable effect at all: they modified neither recalibra-
tion nor strategies. One possible explanation is that priming
with negative age stereotypes is less efficient than priming with
positive ones. Another explanation could be social: maybe sub-
jects came to the laboratory already with a negative attitude
towards old age, and negative priming was therefore precluded
by a floor effect. There indeed exists empirical evidence that in
Bulgaria, compared e.g. to Germany, old age is regarded less
favorably. Bulgarians rate the social status and the economical
contribution of elderly persons much lower than Germans do,
and rate their own experience of discrimination due to old age
as much higher than Germans do (Abrams, Vauclair, & Swift,
2011). These findings might be related to the fact that suicide
rates among the elderly are substantially higher in Bulgaria than
in Germany (Shah, Bhat, McKenzie, & Koen, 2007). To decide
between the two explanations, it would be desirable to compare
the effects of positive versus negative age priming in different
cultures, including those who traditionally venerate their elders.
In this respect, it is interesting to note (Levy & Langer, 1994)
that memory loss in old age is more severe among Americans
with intact hearing than in American Deaf (who don’t experi-
ence spoken age stereotypes), and also more severe than in
mainland Chinese with intact hearing (who live in a culture that
honors old age).
The outcome of our study is in accordance with the hypothe-
sis stated in the Introduction section. Thus, the strategic contri-
bution towards saccadic adaptation might deteriorate in some
seniors more than in others, depending on their assimilation of
societal stereotypes, and only reaches statistical significance
when the role of stereotypes is controlled for by priming. This
could explain why no reliable deficit was observed when un-
primed older subjects were compared to young ones (Bock et
al., under review), but a robust deficit emerged when older
negatively primed subjects were compared to older positively
primed ones in the present study. In any case, age-related dec-
rements of saccadic adaptation, like those of arm adaptation
(Bock, 2005; Fernández-Ruiz et al., 2000; McNay & Willing-
ham, 1998), seem to afflict strategies but not recalibration. The
decrements seem to be less pronounced for the eyes than for the
arm, where a significant difference between age groups was
repeatedly observed even without primes (Bock, 2005;
Fernández-Ruiz et al., 2000; McNay & Willingham, 1998),
possibly because of a stronger cortical involvement in the con-
trol of arm versus eye movements.
The present study takes its place alongside other researches
that documented the role of social preconceptions on sensori-
motor performance (Hausdorff et al., 1999; Levy, 2000; Levy
& Leifheit-Limson, 2009), and thus highlights the potential
dangers of a vicious circle where negative attitudes towards old
age may activate performance deficits in the elderly by way of
self-fulfilling prophecy, which in turn enforces the negative
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