It is sometimes assumed that mental health practitioners by virtue of their training are free from negative attitudes and biases. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Studies have been conducted examining the attitudes of psychologists toward the elderly (Dye, 1978; Ray, McKinney, & Ford, 1987; Wilensky & Barmack, 1966).
Ray et al. (1987) examined the ratings of clinical psychologists towards clinical vignettes where the age of the clients was varied. Significant differences were found with older clients rated less ideal and given significantly poorer prognoses than younger clients. Interestingly, older psychologists rated older clients much more favorably.
Dye (1978) and Wilensky and Barmack (1966) demonstrated that psychologists, and practitioners and clinical psychology students respectively, also harbor negative sentiments about the aged. The study by Wilensky and Barmack is of particular interest. They examined the attitudes of clinical psychology graduate students, and they also looked for gender differences. The authors hypothesized that women would display more nurturance and therefore, exhibit a greater preference to work with the aged. A total of 165 graduate students at six universities were surveyed concerning their preferences for working with the aged. The data, however, did not support their hypothesis. Men demonstrated a stronger preference for working with an older population than did women. Therefore, a gender difference was found but not in the direction of the hypothesis.
Tuckman and Lorge (1953) also found a gender difference. Women were more likely to hold misconceptions and stereotypes about the aged than men. The reasons for this gender difference are not clear but should be explored.
Coe (1967) argues that the maintenance of negative attitudes towards the older adult population can exacerbate the difficulties of an older individual by becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Training in gerontology, awareness of negative attitudes, exposure to positive role models, and contact with the elderly are all suggested for individuals who will be working with elderly clients (Wilson & Hafferty, 1983).