Gabriela Czarnek in co-operation with prof. Małgorzata Kossowska and Michael Richter.

There is increasing evidence that age-related changes in cognitive functioning influence the manner in which social information is interpreted and remembered (e.g., Craik & Jennings, 1992; Forteza & Prieto, 1994; Schaie, 1994). In consequences, elderly people are prone to exhibit stereotypical thinking and behave in a prejudiced manner (Gonsalkorale, Sherman, & Klauer, 2009; Radvansky, Hippel, & Copeland, 2010). A dominant perspective is that these age-differences reflect normative changes in the integrity and efficiency of the information-processing system (Chen, 2004; Chen & Blanchard-Fields, 2000; Hess & Slaughter, 1991).  There is, however increasing evidence that age-related changes in socio-emotional goals and motivation determine what information is attended to and how extensively the information is processed (Carstensen & Turk-Charles, 1994; Hess, 2001).

In our first study we focused on the differences between younger and older adults in stereotypical thinking. We attempted to encourage resource engagement in older adults by increasing personal self-relevance, which has been shown to boost cognitive effort and the complexity of thought (for review, see Lerner & Tetlock, 1999). Consistent with the selective engagement hypothesis, we observed a disproportionate positive impact of self-relevance motivation on older adults’ non-stereotypical inferences. In fact, elderly adults accepted stereotypical inferences less when they read text concerning their own group interests comparing to the situation when elderly read story not interesting to them – in this condition they  accept stereotypical inferences to a greater extent than young adults do.