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How older people think
from Marketingweb

While the marketing industry is still intent on understanding how young people think, there are indications that it is beginning to look ahead to when the average consumer is considerably older than she is today. This includes looking at the mental abilities of older consumers and how they make decisions. While many assume that older adults show marked declines in cognitive functions, these changes do not impact on everyday life as much as many expect.

Not all adults decline equally in brain functions, such as working memory. ?Successful agers? perform nearly as well as young people in many areas, because of the neural integrity of the frontal-parietal brain. Long-term memory declines with age, starting after the third decade, and particularly memory for the source of information (eg, the newspaper or her sister). Semantic memory (for facts and knowledge) tends to persist longer than episodic memory (event-based) and information that is highly practiced, such as playing the piano, is also better preserved with aging.

Picture memory is relatively spared with age, suggesting that it requires less effortful processing. Memory for emotional information is also preserved, particularly for positive emotions, and people look at the past with rose coloured glasses. Older consumers tend to use schema processing rather than detailed processing, unless tested at optimal times of day (morning for older adults, afternoon and evenings for younger adults). Older adults are more persuaded by a cogent message during the optimal time of day than at other times. When presented with products with high personal relevance at these times, persuasion remained consistently lower.

They are not as gullible as they may seem

Older people are more motivated by goals for deriving emotional meaning than goals that increase future preparedness. For example, they are more likely to be persuaded to eat healthily for the sake of their loved ones than because of factual health benefits. Interestingly, they are more likely to avoid risk, for example, leaving experts to make medical decisions or preferring not to make decisions in high conflict situations. This may be partly because they seek less information than younger people, either because they have lower working memory capacity or because they rely more on their experience. Use of emotions is particularly helpful in helping older people make choices.

Each of these conditions for older people suggests a way that marketers can get their message across, such as using more pictures, more emotion, and advertising during the mornings when people are more likely to use detailed processing. Focusing more on loved ones than factual benefits may also be more effective.

At the same time, research highlights the difficulties of assuming that all older people share the same levels of decline. For example, it has been shown that learning a new language, or taking on a new hobby, can increase cognitive function. Other research shows the importance of social networks for older people in meeting their emotional/social needs, and must also assist in supporting cognitive ability to make day-to-day decisions.

This is an excerpt from Nilewide Vol 21 No 13. For more information or to subscribe, go to www.nilewide.com.