Young people are less likely to be ageist when their friends have friendships with older adults, research led by psychologists at the University of Kent has shown. Even when young adults have no social contact with older adults in their everyday life, if they are aware of a friend who is friends with an older adult this can increase their positive attitudes towards older adults as a whole, the researchers found.
Research suggests that positive intergenerational contact can improve young people’s attitudes towards older adults. However, today’s age-segregated society may not provide ample opportunities for positive contact between younger and older adults to occur on a regular basis. In three studies, we investigated whether the positive attitudinal outcomes associated with direct contact might also stem from a more indirect form of intergenerational relationship: extended contact. In Study 1 (N = 70), extended contact was associated with more positive attitudes towards older adults even when controlling for direct intergenerational contact (contact frequency and contact quality). In Study 2 (N = 110), the positive effects of direct and extended contact on young people’s age-related attitudes were mediated by reductions in intergroup anxiety and aging anxiety. The mediational effects of intergroup anxiety were replicated in Study 3 (N = 95) and ingroup norms additionally emerged as a mediator of the positive effects of extended contact on young people’s attitudes towards older adults. Discussion focuses on the implications for strategies aimed at tackling ageism.