Special Session Summary Aging, Elaboration, and Persuasion

Scott A. Hawkins, University of Toronto
Carolyn Yoon, University of Toronto
[ to cite ]:
Scott A. Hawkins and Carolyn Yoon (1998) ,"Special Session Summary Aging, Elaboration, and Persuasion", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 393-394.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 393-394



Scott A. Hawkins, University of Toronto

Carolyn Yoon, University of Toronto

With a decrease in birth rates, an increase in life expectancy, and the aging of the baby-boomers, there is a developing interest in the fastest-growing segment of our population: the elderly. In 1994, almost 13% of the U. S. population (33 million) was at least 65 years old and it is estimated that by 2025, this segment will comprise 18% of the population (over 62 million people). The elderly also constitute a significant consumer market, spending $469 billion in 1994 (US Bureau of the Census 1996).

The growing economic significance of this segment has generated increasing interest in the unique responsiveness of the elderly to common marketing variables (Phillips and Sternthal 1977). The need for better understanding of the effects of marketing variables on elderly consumers has never been greater. Fortunately, there is a growing literature on elderly information processing capabilities that provides a useful theoretical backdrop to investigations of elderly responsiveness to marketing efforts. The papers in this session started with theoretical insights gleaned from the literature on the psychology of aging to develop and test hypotheses regarding differences in young and elderly consumers’ responses to persuasive communications. The age-related differences in responses were then used to modify or "fine-tune" existing theories of persuasion. Thus, the interest in elderly consumers was both an end in itself (the growing elderly population makes understanding of this segment more important) and a means to elaborate on existing theories of persuasion.

The objectives of this session were to examine the implications of cognitive aging research for persuasive efforts directed at mature consumers and to report recent findings of age differences in responss to persuasive communications. The session both highlighted significant age-differences in memory and persuasion tasks and used these age-differences to examine the adequacy of various theories of memory and persuasion.

The first paper by Park, Cherry, and Frieske (1997) began with a brief overview of the major findings on age-related changes in cognitive functioning (with an emphasis on memory performance). Their first study examined whether pictorial elaborations on verbal information can increase memory for that verbal information for young and elderly consumers. Their results confirmed the typical age-related memory difference in recall and a memory advantage for verbal information accompanied by pictorial elaborations. More interestingly, they also report an age by picture interaction, which suggested that the elderly were especially likely to show improvements in recall as a result of the additional pictorial elaboration. A second study examined young and elderly consumers’ recall for information presented in print (newspaper articles), audio (radio), and video (television clips). They found that the elderly showed consistently poorer recall and source memory for information across the presentation modalities. In addition, age-related differences were smaller for content recall compared to source memory. These results suggest that age-related deficits in memory are not inevitable but can be repaired by providing pictorial information that clarifies the verbal information.

The second paper by Law, Hawkins, and Craik (forthcoming) examined the role of repetition and memory on the beliefs of young and elderly subjects. Previous research has demonstrated that there is a decline in memory performance associated with aging (Craik & Jennings 1992). In addition, past work (Hawkins & Hoch 1992; Hawkins, Hoch, & Meyers-Levy forthcoming) has demonstrated that memory is a critical mediator in repetition-induced belief (i.e., previous exposure to marketing claims makes them more credible). In the first study Law, Hawkins, and Craik demonstrated that the elderly are more likely than the young to believe marketing claims that they think they have seen before. This heightened sensitivity of their beliefs to perceived repetition is shown to be the result of greater recognition and source memory failure among elderly subjects. A second study demonstrated that instructions to form mental images of the claims can ameliorate the age-related deficits in memory (providing additional evidence for the environmental support hypothesis), and, consequently, it can eliminate age-differences in susceptibility to repetition-induced belief. These results suggest that elderly consumers are less likely to evince memory deficits and erroneous beliefs based on those memory errors when they are encouraged to generate images in response to verbal information.

The third paper by Yoon and Lee (1997) investigated the moderating effects of age and time of day on the typical pattern of findings within the Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty & Cacioppo 1986) findings (i.e., higher involvement increases the impact of central, message relevant, cues). In an experimental study, they examined how time of day and involvement affect the way younger and older adults are persuaded by argument strength versus pictorial representation within ads. During their respective optimal times of day (morning for older adults and evening for younger adults), both age groups were more persuaded by stronger than by weaker arguments, especially when highly motivated to process the ads. However, during non-optimal time of day, the elderly seemed to be more persuaded by picture-based information, regardless of their motivation levels. Furthermore, older adults were more persuaded when the picture is related, compared to when it is unrelated, to the product featured in the ad. By contrast, younger adults who were highly motivated to process ad information appeared to be persuaded by strong arguments even at theirnon-optimal time of day; they were persuaded by peripheral pictorial stimuli only when their motivation to process was low. These results suggest that, not only do elderly individuals face constraints that limit their ability to elaborate on messages, but that these constraints vary over the course of a normal day. Of course, the ability to elaborate on messages also has implications for the effectiveness of various persuasive messages.

The papers in this session shared a common objective of investigating the impact of verbal and visual elaboration of information on memory for that information. In addition, all the studies compared healthy young (college-age) and elderly (over 60 years old) consumers. The papers also complemented each other by examining a closely related set of dependent measures. The Park, Cherry and Frieske paper examined recall and source memory; the Law, Hawkins, and Craik paper examined recognition and source memory as well as belief ratings; and the Yoon and Lee paper examined memory and persuasion measures.

The discussion, moderated by Joan Meyers-Levy, provided a forum for informal interaction among session participants and audience members. Discussion issues included: a consideration of the possibility that the level of cognitive activity over the lifespan may moderate the age-related decline in memory performance found in the Park, Cherry, and Frieske paper; an exploration of the role of implicit memory processes in the results reported in the Law, Hawkins, Craik paper; and the interpretation of the time of day manipulation as a proxy for ability in the Yoon and Lee paper.


Craik, Fergus I. M. and Janine M. Jennings (1992), "Human Memory," in Handbook of Aging and Cognition, eds. Fergus I. M. Craik and Timothy A. Salthouse, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 51-110.

Hawkins, Scott A. and Stephen J. Hoch (1992), "Low-Involvement Learning: Memory Without Evaluation," Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (September), 212-225.

Hawkins, Scott A., Stephen J. Hoch, and Joan Meyers-Levy (forthcoming), "Low-Involvement Learning: Repetition and Coherence in Familiarity and Belief," Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Law, Sharmistha, Scott A. Hawkins, and Fergus I. M. Craik (forthcoming), "Repetition-Induced Belief in the Elderly: Rehabilitating Age-Related Memory Deficits," Journal of Consumer Research.

Park, Denise C., Katie Cherry, and David Frieske (1997), "The Role of Cross-Modality Elaborations in Young and Old Adults: Implications for Advertising," Working paper, University of Michigan.

Petty, Richard E. and Cacioppo, John T. (1986), Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes to Persuasion. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Phillips, Lynn W. and Brian Sternthal (1977), "Age Differences in Information Processing: A Perspective On the Aged Consumer," Journal of Marketing Research, 19 (November), 444-457.

U.S. Bureau of the Census (1996), Statistical Abstract of the United States, U.S. Bureau of the Census, 116th ed. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Yoon, Carolyn and Michelle Lee (1997), "Age Differences in Processing of Pictoral and Verbal Information Across Time of Day: Implications for Persuasion," Working paper, University of Toronto.