Sunday, February 23, 2014

Differences between Actual Age and Perceived Age

My thoughts were still focused on my recent post on spanning time through the generations. I am fascinated with the vast amounts of time that can pass between generations that have actually known each other, if only briefly and superficially.  I then started thinking about the perception of time, and how it is so subjective. 

I know from my own personal experience that when I was young, I always had the perception that I was older than I actually was.  For example, when I was 9 years old I felt like I was 12.  I know this to be true because my older brother was three years older than me and I could never understand why I couldn't do what he was allowed to do, while I was not.  After all, I perceived myself to be as grown up as he was.  I think young people, in general perceive of themselves as more mature than their chronological or "actual" age.  
Now that I am considerably older, I perceive myself to be considerably younger than my chronological age.  Further, upon reflection, I think that I have felt this way for quite some time, and that I feel even more of a difference from my actual age than I have ever felt before.
Obviously,  since, as a youth, I perceived myself older and now I perceive myself younger, there had to be a point in time when my perceived age was about the same as my chronological age. I would guess that to be when I was about 30.
Today, I asked my younger son, who is 41, how old he perceived himself to be.  He said that he felt like he was in his younger 30's. Good for him.
The next question I had was whether there was any connection between perceived age and longevity.  In other words, do people who perceive themselves to be younger than they actually are, live any longer? I suppose we could also ask if people who live longer perceive themselves to be younger than those who die younger.

I did find some interesting research on these questions.  So, I present here highlights of what I found, so far, for your consideration. If you have any additional citations that are interesting I would be glad to include them.

First, we need to clarify an ambiguity in the use of the term "perceived" age.  We have to be very clear about who is the "perceiver".  I was originally thinking of self perception, and in saying that I was not limiting myself to self perception of physical appearance.  There is a subset of literature dealing with perception of physical appearance, whether by oneself or by others.  This has been primarily studied in cases trying to objectify the results of plastic surgery.  This is not what I was originally thinking about, but it did provide more food for thought.  If you are "as old as you feel", and if you feel how you do because you see yourself in the mirror, it could affect the perception of how old you perceive yourself to be.  I have to give this aspect of the perception question some more careful thought. In my case I was primarily thinking about how old I mentally felt, but I suppose that the physical and mental are more tied together than I had originally thought.

Next, I did find some literature about perception of age as a function of time (generational).  I would give this example to illustrate the point.  My father and mother "grew up" or "matured" at an earlier age than I did.  He was working full time as a youth and was considered by his social peers at that time as an adult at a much younger age than my social peers considered me as an adult.  As further demonstration of this point, my mother (as well as other young women of her age) was considered adult and ready for marriage at much younger age than women were during my generation.  My childrens' generation has pushed this perceived adulthood (marriage)  even further along.  Perhaps this explains why my son has a greater difference between his actual and perceived age, than I did at his age.

It appears that most of the funding for this research is based upon the need for marketing information.  When a company markets their product, do they market to an audience of a particular actual age range, or rather, to a group that perceives themselves to be within a particular age range.
I think, what the research is showing, anyway, is that different people of a particular age have quite different thoughts of their perceived age.  This is like the second derivative of the age question.
Can we quantify characteristics that makes one group have a greater difference between perceived and actual age compared to some other group?  Is it gender dependent?  How about income dependent?  Does health, diet, or fitness play a roll? Does family history (longevity) play a roll?  Divorce? Education? Intelligence?  Ethnicity? Nationality?

The Big Window in conjunction with BBC Audiences has found some interesting information: "...differences between peoples’ Perceived Age and their Actual Age...[As] the chart [below] shows... People typically feel slightly older than they are until they hit 30. After that they start to feel younger – and then increasingly so. By the time they reach their early 70s, consumers actually feel in their mid-to-late 50s...The study suggests that as people approach their mid-70s the gap between perceived age and actual age starts to lessen – possibly as physical and mental health-related problems emerge.

Certainly from a Business to Consumer marketing perspective we have lots to learn [about] “perceived age”. It’s a consumer mindset already apparent in local products such as Carlisle Living magazine whose primary target audience is predominantly female, 18-25 years of age whilst the actual “consumers” of the magazine are to be found in the 25-40 age groups – although still largely female. Similar examples can also be witnessed with the demand for tickets across a wide demographic in Carlisle for Radio 1’s Big Weekend, the increase in the popularity of Zumba classes for the 25 -40 age groups , video-gaming and the rise of technologies originally targeting a younger consumer for instance Wii; and of course certain social networking sites such Facebook, Twitter etc. originally designed for the teens and now adopted across a much older age profile."

If you know of any other interesting research or comments on this issue please comment below.

1 comment:

  1. Brian (St. Louis, MO)March 2, 2014 at 7:11 AM

    Very interesting post. Good food for thought. You would have thought that the medical establishment would be more interested in this than the marketing world. I enjoy your blog posts. The diversity of material is very good. Keep it up.