Young People’s Willingness to Help Elderly People

A new study examined the effect of confronting young people with an image depicting them as unhelpful on their willingness to help elderly people. (Leeuwen & Jongh, 2014)

The researchers asked 54 university students to read a different mock-up newspaper article depending on which experimental group they were in:

Subjective information condition, the article described how elderly people perceived this group of young adults

Objective information condition reflected the results of scientific research investigating the behaviour of young adults

Relevant condition, the article described young adults as egotistical, unhelpful, and uncaring

Irrelevant condition, young adults were described as unintelligent and unknowledgeable

The participants then completed a questionnaire assessing their willingness to help elderly people. The 6 item questionnaire asked questions such as:

“To what extent would you be willing to shop for groceries, on occasion, to help out an elderly person who is unable to do this him/herself?”

The participants also completed a short questionnaire about dealing anxiety when dealing with elderly people. As this has been shown to be significant in previous research.

The research team from the VU University Amsterdam found the research supported their hypothesis as well as replicating previous studies by finding that the elderly’s view of young people as unhelpful actually increased young people’s helpful intentions.

Although when this impression of young people as unhelpful came from an objective source, the young adults taking part in the research were increasingly likely to believe and conform to this impression of unwillingness to help the elderly.

As an ever ageing population research such as this that seeks to learn how to engage young people with the elderly is of increasing importance to us all.