De-Biasing the Age-Happiness Bias: Memory Search and Cultural Expectations in Happiness Judgments Across the Lifespan

Document Type



Published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, volume 13 issue 4, 2012. Bryant users may access this article here.


Happiness judgment; Affective forecasting; Aging stereotypes; Ageism


Springer Science+Business Media

Publication Source

Journal of Happiness Studies


While most research shows increasing happiness across the adult life-span, there is a common and persistent misconception that happiness decreases with age. In two experiments, we found evidence to suggest that this age-happiness bias results in part from a biased search for exemplars in memory. When provided with specific exemplars, aged 30 or 70, showing clear evidence of an active and sociable lifestyle, happiness estimates were unaffected by age. However, we also found evidence that the bias may influence judgments by invoking different standards for young and old. Among participants in the United States in Experiment 1, a negative lifestyle description resulted in negative happiness ratings for a 30 year-old and neutral ratings for a 70 year-old, suggesting that the lifestyle was considered normative for the older adults. Among Irish participants in Experiment 2, we found no such distinction, arguably because of cultural differences in social expectations across the generations. These studies help to reveal the judgment mechanisms behind the age-happiness bias, and identify the boundaries of this persistent bias.