College students’ perceptions of “old people” compared to “grandparents”

Tina M.K. Newsham, Amy M. Schuster, M. Aaron Guest, Katherina Nikzad-Terhune, Graham D. Rowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


College students are poised to take on important leadership roles in society, and as such, it is vital that they understand the interests and needs of people throughout the life course and that they do not harbor ageist believes that may play out in the policies they enact, the services they provide, or the products they create. Many college students have little exposure or interaction with older adults aside from family members such as grandparents, and their primary sources of knowledge of aging and older adults are various media outlets. To understand how these factors converge, college students were asked to list words they associated with “old person” and with “grandpa/grandma.” Findings reveal a strong decline-focused perception of the general category of older adults as well as negative emotional terms. Perceptions of specific, more likely to be known older adults revealed more positive, healthy, and nuanced views. Implications for college teachers are highlighted, including carefully curated intergenerational service-learning opportunities. Future directions include exploring perceptions of these two categories of older adults across cultures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-71
Number of pages9
JournalEducational Gerontology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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