The effect of stereotyping on guardianship decisions: An empirical approach

Judith Ann Sheiman, Purdue University


A major problem many elderly people face is a hearing to determine their competence to care for their estate and/or their person. Guardianship and conservatorship statutes tend to be broadly written and leave much to the interpretation of the court. To the extent that a judge or jury is influenced by stereotypic views of the elderly, the outcome may be inappropriately biased. This study used a mock hearing design to explore the effect of stereotyping on the outcome of the hearing, evaluation of the alleged ward, subjects' memory of the evidence and subjects' information seeking. Six hypotheses were examined. It was predicted that older wards would be judged more in need of control than younger and would be more likely assigned a conservator. It also was predicted that an elderly ward who testified would be judged more in need of control than a younger ward. Subjects were expected to endorse stereotypic attribute statements about the elderly ward and not the younger. Subjects were expected to remember negative evidence about the older wards better than positive, and to think negative information that had not been presented actually had. Finally, subjects were expected to want to ask questions that would tend to confirm their stereotype of the elderly when the ward was older. Subjects did tend to assign the more stringent outcomes of guardian and conservator when the ward was elderly than when he was younger. However, there were no differences between groups on the stereotypic attribute questionnaire. Subjects tended to better remember positive information that was said in the hearing. They endorsed positive statements that were not included in evidence as being true. Subjects most often chose to appoint no one over the ward. In general, they appeared to view the ward in all conditions as competent. Suggestions for method revision and future research are included in the paper.




Savitsky, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Law

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