NEW YORK (Reuters) – Older people like reading negative news stories about their younger counterparts because it boosts their own self-esteem, according to a new study.
German researchers said older people tend to be portrayed negatively in society. Although they are often described as wise, they are also be shown as being slow and forgetful.
"Living in a youth centered culture, they may appreciate a boost in self-esteem. That's why they prefer the negative stories about younger people, who are seen as having a higher status in our society," said Dr. Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, of Ohio State University.
Knoblock-Westerwick and her co-author Matthias Hastall, of Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany, studied 276 German adults, including 178 aged 18 to 30 and 98 between 55 and 60. Their findings are published in the Journal of Communication.
All the adults in the study were shown what they were led to believe was a test version of a new online news magazine. They were also given a limited time to look over either a negative and positive version of 10 pre-selected articles.
Each story was also paired with a photograph depicting someone of either the younger or the older age group.
The researchers found that older people were more likely to choose to read negative articles about those younger than themselves. They also tended to show less interest in articles about older people, whether negative or positive.
But younger people preferred to read positive articles about other young people.
According to Knobloch-Westerwick, older people's preference for negative news about their younger counterparts can be explained by their place in society.
"Everybody likes a self-esteem boost. For young people though, it's almost automatic. Youth is considered important in society," she said.
After perusing the articles, the participants completed a questionnaire designed to measure levels of self-esteem. Unlike their younger counterparts, the self-esteem of older people rose after they read a negative article about younger people.
Although the study was done in Germany, Knobloch-Westerwick believe nationality and the national characteristics are not important.
"I believe that much the same would hold true for Americans" if a similar study were undertaken in the US," she said in an interview.
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