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The Globe and Mail

Older people prefer negative news about young people

Ryan McVay/Ryan McVay/PHOTODISC

Adults these days.

When given a choice, people over the age of 50 prefer reading negative - rather than glowing - news about young folk, an attitude that often raises their own self-esteem.

In a youth-centric world, it can feel good to read about hapless young-uns, say the authors of a joint study from Ohio State University and Germany's Zeppelin University.

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The study, published in next month's issue of the Journal of Communication, involved 178 people aged 18 to 30 and 98 people aged 50 to 65. The German participants arrived at a laboratory, where they were asked to review a not-yet-published online magazine and pick the stories that grabbed their attention.

Different respondents got the same stories, but some stories were given a positive spin and others were negative. For example, one article got the positive headline "Visitation rights gained after daring protest: Demonstration at 100 feet high a success." The negative version read, "Visitation rights denied despite daring protest: Demonstration at 100 feet high in vain." The stories included a photo of the protester: In half, the protester was young; in the other half, the protester was old.

Older respondents homed in on the story of the young protester failing. After browsing the magazine, they filled out a short questionnaire measuring their self-esteem, and it appeared that the exercise bolstered these emotions.

And the younger respondents? They preferred reading about their young counterparts, and passed on the stories featuring older people altogether.

Both responses - the fist-shaking reading choices of the older participants and the indifference of youth to their elders - seem to point in one direction: Ageism is alive and well.

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