News stories about stupid young people make old people feel good

Dr. Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick (Ohio State) and Matthias Hastall, (Zeppelin University, Germany) have published an article in the Journal of Communication with their research showing that old people love to read stories about young people doing stupid things because it makes them feel better about being old. The study was conducted using 178 German adults aged 18 to 30 and 98 between 55 and 60. I have no idea if this is a valid statistical sample, but since it confirms my own feelings about old people, I will trust its results.
All the adults in the study were shown what they were led to believe was a test version of a new online news magazine. They were also given a limited time to look over either a negative and positive version of 10 pre-selected articles.

Each story was also paired with a photograph depicting someone of either the younger or the older age group.

The researchers found that older people were more likely to choose to read negative articles about those younger than themselves. They also tended to show less interest in articles about older people, whether negative or positive.

But younger people preferred to read positive articles about other young people.

Older people enjoy reading negative stories about young (via /.)


  1. I sense a certain age bias on Cory’s part. As a 60 something reader of Boingboing, I enjoy a wide variety of stories, and am not particularly entertained by any stories of people of any age engaged in acts of stupidity.

    I have better things to do with what remains of my time on this planet than to waste it in glorying in the stupidity of any age group.I probably shouldn’t even be wasting my time writing this.

  2. In other news, people all over the world like reading about stupid people because it makes them feel superior to stupid people.

    This is shocking, how?

  3. For all the whippersnappers out there. Take note. Everyone is interested in you. If you’ve got, flaunt it, because old happens to everyone. Now go do something interesting.

  4. Sounds daft/obvious to me. The young can learn and not repeat stupidity. As a middle-aged person it may be amusing but I expect the youth to grow up and become experienced. It just reminds me of my stupid mistakes. Older persons mistakes are different, more serious and final.

  5. As an old person, I’d just like to say that there was entirely too little negative content about young people in this story. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to get back to saying “harumph” quite loudly…

  6. As a Gen Xer, I reflexively blame Boomers for all the worlds ills; and feel good when I read stories about bad things happening to them when they do stupid things!

  7. It would appear that science has just discerned the true appeal of the Daily Heil.

    The only question is: Do stories about young people behaving badly cause or prevent cancer?

  8. (reads article)
    “Haha, those stupid old people; so easily manipulated into thinking themselves superior from a simple news article.”
    (brief moment of self-awareness)
    (head explodes)

  9. “I have no idea if this is a valid statistical sample, but since it confirms my own feelings about old people, I will trust its results.”

    That is the worst thing I’ve read on boing boing. Try replacing “old people” with the gender, race, religion or sexuality of your choice.

    The whole point of the scientific method is to avoid assuming something is true because it matches your worldview.

  10. I love reading this story about gullible young people believing bogus study results about old people!

    I’m an old people and I approve this message.

  11. Did the research also find that old people like reading younger people’s obituaries because it feels like they just just won the lottery again?

  12. Oh, irony! Oh no, we don’t get that here. See, people ski topless here while smoking dope, so irony’s not really a high priority. We haven’t had any irony here since about ’83, when I was the only practitioner of it. And I stopped because I was tired of being stared at.

  13. robulus@14

    My mother is a retired nurse and she once told me “If you wake up over the age of 30 and something doesn’t hurt, you’re probably dead.”

    Being closer to 60 than 30 now myself, reminding myself of mom’s observation I find the minor aches and twinges of daily life oddly reassuring.

  14. The study was conducted using 178 German adults

    The study is faulty if natural levels of schadenfreude weren’t accounted for.

  15. Hey, I’m an old person and I LOVE reading Boing Boing and I LOVE reading about young people doing great things because it smashes stereotypes. SMASH those stereotypes, don’t promote them!

  16. So, if 55 year olds are geriatric, what must you make of folks in their seventies, eighties or nineties? Folks too foolish to know that it’s time to die? Gah.

    Pardon me if I’m cranky. I’m up past my bedtime. Gotta find my Geritol too (You don’t have to take it to prove your decrepitude, you just have to have know what it is without Googling it.) because I’m going to do a steampunk makeover on my walker tomorrow.

  17. It appears that an alternate tagline for this story would be “No one likes reading about old people.”

  18. Indeed @anon 25… I wonder whether this has less to do with the fact that older people like thinking young people are stupid or whether in fact it would seem that being reminded of one’s mortality remains unsurprisingly unpopular in most Euro-American cultures.

  19. “I have no idea if this is a valid statistical sample, but since it confirms my own feelings about old people, I will trust its results.”

    BIGOT: a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

  20. It is a presumption on the study’s part to say that the “old” people chose to read the articles because they wanted to boost their self-esteem. Results do not prove motivation. Their questionnaire that followed the test measured the rise in self-esteem but did not seek motivation. It could have just as much to do with (the ever perpetuated)fear that society is in steep decline.

  21. I have no idea if this is a valid statistical sample, but since it confirms my own feelings about old people, I will trust its results.I see what you did there.

  22. Nevermind whether the stories are positive or negative. The more interesting thing is that the research shows all people, young or old, prefer to read stories about young people. Nobody wants to read stories about old people.

    On second thoughts, what the research actually show is that everyone is attracted to look at the picture of the young people and read the attached stories. (The stories aren’t about young or old people, it’s the pictures that are of young or old people). People prefer to look at pictures of young people. Not a really surprising result.

  23. These comments are making me laugh so hard! As a Gen Y member I’m glad everyone likes to look at us :P

    And our younger siblings too.

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