Don’t like to hear about young folks – Most of us assume that young people are critical of older folks, finding their music and movie tastes archaic and their failure to be comfortable with modern technology lamentable. But a new study suggests that old folks are the ones who are critical and given a choice, they people prefer to read negative news, rather than positive news, about young adults.

Why? Because older readers who read negative stories about young people get a small boost in their self-esteem. And what about younger people? Well, they prefer NOT to read about older people.

These results come from a study of 276 Germans who were asked to read what they thought was a test version of an online magazine featuring carefully selected stories about younger and older people. Researcher Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick says, “Our results bolster the argument that people use the media to enhance their social identity. Older people and younger people have different goals when they use the media, and it shows in what they choose to read.”

Younger people, who are less certain about their own identity, prefer to read about other younger people to see how they live their lives. Older people, on the other hand, have greater certainty regarding their identity. However, living in a youth-centered culture, they may appreciate a boost in self-esteem. That’s why they prefer the negative stories about younger people, who are seen as having a higher status in our society.

It would be interesting to see if these test results would be replicated in Asian societies, where the wisdom of older people is much more respected. Since the science of “demographics” has taken over movie and TV production, as well as advertising, most shows (and ads) are “skewed” towards a youthful audience, making anyone over 50 feel somewhat invisible, and this is what probably causes the resentment shown by their enjoyment of reading about things like young movie stars being sent to drug rehab.

At first the researchers were puzzled by the fact that older people in that first study seemed as equally interested in stories about younger people as they were in stories about older people like themselves. Then they the realization dawned. As Knobloch-Westerwick says, “Now we know why older people liked reading about the younger people–they were looking for negative stories about them. Our new results go along with other research showing that people’s social identity helps shape what media messages we choose. Age is just one type of social identity which may affect our media choices.”

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