Age Excuses: Conversational Management of Memory Failures in Older Adults Journal Articles uri icon

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  • The social consequences of appealing to age to excuse memory failure were examined in 2 vignette-based studies. In Study 1, 75 older (M = 72 years) and 78 young (M = 22 years) adults evaluated forgetful older targets in their 70s who used their age, lack of ability, lack of effort, or the situation to explain forgetting. In Study 2, 105 older (M = 72 years) and 105 young participants (M = 19 years) evaluated forgetful targets with no specific age given in 4 excuse conditions (age, ability, situation, and no excuse). In support of the prediction of positive consequences, age excuses were rated as more believable than situation in both studies and more believable and socially fluent than effort in Study 1. In support of predictions of negative consequences, both groups in Study 2 rated target persons who used an age excuse to be much older than their peers and, along with ability excuse users, as eliciting more worry and frustration than the others. Moreover, young adults showed additional sensitivity to the negative aspects of age excuses in terms of worry and frustration in Study 1 and anticipated repeat forgetting in Study 2. These results suggest that although age excuses may relieve socially awkward situations, this strategy reinforces negative age stereotyping of the older forgetter.


  • Ryan, Ellen
  • Bieman-Copland, S
  • See, STK
  • Ellis, CH
  • Anas, AP

publication date

  • May 1, 2002