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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Age Attenuates the Negativity Bias in Reframing Effects

  • Author(s): Sparks, J
  • Ledgerwood, A
  • et al.

© 2018 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc. A growing literature on reframing effects has identified a robust negativity bias: Under many circumstances, people’s attitudes change less when framing switches from negative to positive (vs. positive to negative). Like other basic psychological biases, this one is often assumed to reflect a general human tendency, but there are theoretical reasons to expect boundary conditions on when and for whom it operates. In this article, we zero in on age as one important potential moderator, and test competing predictions from different perspectives. Using a large, highly powered data set that synthesizes across multiple past studies (N = 2,452; aged 18-81 years), we fit multilevel models to test the moderating impact of age on reframing effects, as well as single-shot framing effects. We found that (consistent with socioemotional selectivity theory), the negativity bias in reframing attenuated as age increased. We discuss implications for the aging literature and for understanding valence biases more broadly.

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