x0 h8 y78 ff1 fs5 fc0 sc0 ls0 ws9">with 25 double-step episodes, and then by an aftereffect phase
with two single-step episodes.
The data of eight subjects from another study (Bock et al.,
under review) were used as non-priming control. Those sub-
jects participated in the saccade adaptation task but not in the
scrambled sentence task, were healthy, right-handed and 58.7 ±
4.4 years old.
Horizontal and vertical eye movements were registered by
electrooculography (DC-EOG) with a band pass filter of 0.08 -
100 Hz. Signals were digitized with a resolution of 0.01 deg/bit
and a sampling rate of 100 Hz, and calibration was repeated
every five episodes. Custom-designed interactive software de-
termined saccade direction as the angular difference between
first target step and primary saccade, in the plane of the screen.
The software also determined saccade latency as the delay be-
tween first target step and the onset of primary saccade. Sac-
cades with latencies beyond 270 ms were discarded, since they
may be influenced by reprogramming towards the second step
(Becker & Jürgens, 1979). Mean saccade directions for each
subject and episode were adjusted by subtracting the sub-
ject-specific baseline values before graphical presentation and
statistical analysis.
Results
Figure 1 illustrates that during the adaptation phase, saccade
Figure 1.
Saccade direction for each episode of the adaptation phase (25 episodes)
and the aftereffect phase (2 episodes). Means across subjects primed
with positive age stereotypes are shown in grey, those across subjects
primed with negative age stereotypes in black, and those across non-
primed control subjects are dashed. For better clarity, no error bars are
shown.
direction gradually increased towards the negative, as expected
for adequate adaptation. This increase was most pronounced in
the group primed with positive age stereotypes, reaching a
mean of 8.1 deg across the last five adaptation episodes. The
five-episode mean of saccade direction was only 4.7 deg in
the control group and 4.4 deg in the negatively primed group.
When a deviant, non-adapting subject was excluded (84% of
data from that subject were positive rather than negative), the
five-episode mean in the negatively primed group changed to
5.6 deg. In fact, the deviant subject is excluded in Figure 1
and in the reported statistical analyses. The five-episode means
of saccade direction in all subjects were submitted to an
one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with the factor Group,
which yielded statistical significance (F(2,20) = 9.38; p =
0.0013). Fisher’s LSD post-hoc tests revealed significant dif-
ferences between positive and negative group (p < 0.01), be-
tween positive and control group (p < 0.001) but not between
negative and control group (p > 0.05).
Figure 1 further shows that saccade direction during the last
two (aftereffect) episodes was quite similar in all groups. Ac-
cordingly, when mean saccadic direction across both aftereffect
episodes was submitted to one-way ANOVA, no significance
was yielded (F(2,20) = 0.014; p > 0.05).
Discussion
The present study manipulated subjects’ performance th-
rough semantic priming. This technique is thought to activate a
specific node in a lexical network and thus to facilitate the sub-
sequent processing of words with similar meaning (Kiesel,
Kunde, & Hoffmann, 2007). However, it also was found to
influence higher-order mental functions such as creativity
(Mayer & Mussweiler, 2011), self-confidence (Levy, Hausdorff,
Hencke, & Wei, 2000), product preference (Strahan, Spencer,
& Zanna, 2002) attention focus (Hüttermann, Memmert, &
Bock, 2012) and motivation (Hart & Albarracín, 2009; Radel,
Sarrazin, Legrain, & Gobancé, 2009). We used this approach to
activate positive or negative age stereotypes in our subjects, and
observe the consequences on saccadic adaptation.
Our data document a beneficial influence of positive primes
on performance during the adaptation phase, but not during the
aftereffect phase. This suggests, according to established rea-
Open Access 1015
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.
Conclusion
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
attitudes.
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