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OPINION

Are You an Age Imposter, Disliked for Looking Young?

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Wendy L. Patrick By Saturday, 08 June 2024 06:15 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Research Reveals How Younger People View Attempts to Recapture Youth

People may respond differently depending on your motives for wanting to stop the clock.

But according to research, there is another factor in the mix when it comes to the way others respond to your age-related appearance, and it may have very little to do with you.

Alexander M. Schoemann and Nyla R. Branscombe (2011) examined perceptions of anti-aging measures through the lens of young adults.

Their study involved 94 students, all of whom were under 25 years of age, with a median age of 19. They found that both young men and women viewed older adults who attempted to look younger more negatively than those who didn’t, and found these negative evaluations resulted from a perceived threat to social identity.

The interesting question they explored, was why.

The Age Imposter

Schoemann and Branscombe (ibid.) describe an impostor as someone who illegitimately claims to be a member of a group — when membership is not supported by the person’s actual characteristics or behavior.

They give as an example, someone who identifies as a vegetarian who occasionally consumes meat.

When it comes to age-related conformity, they note that older adults who take steps to appear younger may be seen as age imposters, particularly when they attempt to look like a "young adult."

Interestingly, Schoemann and Branscombe (supra) found that adults who attempted to look younger were disliked the most when they were closer in age to the perceiver, and among perceivers who strongly identified with their age group.

Dislike was not based on target attractiveness, nor impacted by the gender of the target or the perceiver.

How Old is Too Old to Look Young?

Schoemann and Branscombe (supra) explored the perception of de-aging attempts by "imposters" of different ages. They found that the social costs faced by older adults who attempt to conceal their true age include being disliked by young adults whether they are in their 30s, 50s, or 60s.

Yet they found the efforts of "older" adults who were close in age could be viewed as too close for comfort.

They found that targets in their 30s trying to portray themselves as younger present a greater threat to the social identity of young adults then targets in their 60s, and accordingly, received more negative evaluations.

Disrespect as Defense of Territory

These findings can be important from a practical, behavioral perspective.

Because Schoemann and Branscombe found that young adults responded to the perceived threat posed by older adults attempting to look younger by disparaging these adults who threatened their social identities, it might explain why some young people treat their "elders" with disapproval or disrespect.

If the negative perception is strongest when older adults are closer in age to the perceivers, it might explain negative interpersonal dynamics or competition in a workplace filled with younger employees, or in social settings or venues designed to appeal to the under-40 crowd — who apparently are not as homogeneous when it comes to perceived social identity as might be assumed by looking.

Perhaps also, older adults who successfully "de-age" themselves, whether through surgery, makeup, or clothing, are not viewed negatively because they actually appear younger, and accordingly, are not viewed as imposters trying to infiltrate a group they have aged out of.

Most importantly, however, we remember that although socially, physical appearance is a relevant factor at any age, genuine qualities such as kindness, interest, attention, and respect are ageless and timeless.

First impressions involve both looks and likability, which includes the way other people make us feel.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, Ph.D., is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.

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WendyLPatrick
Although socially, physical appearance is a relevant factor at any age, genuine qualities such as kindness, interest, attention, and respect are ageless and timeless. First impressions involve both looks and likability, which includes the way other people make us feel.
age, imposter, young
652
2024-15-08
Saturday, 08 June 2024 06:15 AM
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