Chicago Tribune: Racial prejudice and the elderly

Chicago Tribune (9/23/08)

Racial prejudice and the elderly

Now, though, in the midst of the nation’s first presidential campaign between a black candidate and a white one, a convergence of new political and scientific research suggests that prejudice and stereotyping among elderly white Americans in particular may not be so innocuous after all.

Older white voters heavily favored Sen. Hillary Clinton over Sen. Barack Obama during the Democratic primary season, and national polls indicate that group now leans toward Sen. John McCain by 10 percentage points or more.

Pollsters and political scientists cannot pinpoint how much of that anti-Obama sentiment may be related to racial prejudice. But sociologists say their research indicates that implicit racial biases influence the voting decisions of many Americans of all ages—and that, for very basic physiological reasons related to the aging of their brains, many older citizens may be unable to suppress their prejudicial impulses, whether at the family dinner table or in the privacy of a voting booth.

Von Hippel, a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, has found that as the brain’s frontal lobe begins to atrophy with age, elderly adults exhibit greater social inappropriateness and increased stereotyping and prejudice. And it happens despite their best intentions.

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