To investigate the contribution of cortical midline regions to stereotype threat and resiliency, we compared age groups in an event-related functional MRI study. During scanning, 17 younger and 16 older adults judged whether words stereotypical of aging and control words described them. Judging stereotype words versus control words revealed higher activations in posterior midline regions associated with self-referencing, including the precuneus, for older adults compared to younger adults. While heightening salience of stereotypes can evoke a threat response, detrimentally affecting performance, invoking stereotypes can also lead to a phenomenon called resilience, where older adults use those stereotypes to create downward social-comparisons to "other" older adults and elevate their own self-perception. In an exploration of brain regions underlying stereotype threat responses as well as resilience responses, we found significant activation in older adults for threat over resilient responses in posterior midline regions including the precuneus, associated with self-reflective thought, and parahippocampal gyrus, implicated in autobiographical memory. These findings have implications for understanding how aging stereotypes may affect the engagement of regions associated with contextual and social processing of self-relevant information, indicating ways in which stereotype threat can affect the engagement of neural resources with age.
Colton, G., Leshikar, E. D., & Gutchess, A. H. (2013). Age Differences in Neural Response to Stereotype Threat and Resiliency for Self-Referenced Information. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00537