Can friendships cross generations? This is the question that researchers from the University of Aberdeen are hoping to answer with help from the local community.
Led by Professor Louise Phillips from the School of Psychology, researchers are looking at the way friends communicate with each other to investigate whether there are differences in the way young and older friends interact with each other.
It is hoped that understanding how these interactions may or may not differ across generations will help inform ways to curb loneliness in both young and older adults - a problem which some research* has identified to be as much of a risk to public health as smoking or obesity.
The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council will investigate whether differences in communication style are due to cultural differences between generations or can be put down to age-related changes, like problems with hearing or sight.
Professor Phillips explains: “We already know that there are age differences in the way that we communicate with each other in terms of facial expressions and how we speak.
“In this study, we are interested in whether these differences are influenced by the aging process, so do we change our communication style as our hearing changes? Or instead age differences might reflect cultural changes, for example - do baby boomers have different rules of etiquette than millennials?!
“We think that understanding more about how younger and older people differ in social interactions is important to improve intergenerational relationships, and so goes some way to address issues of social isolation in both age groups.”
The study will also look at any differences between younger and older people in terms of the way that they respond to their friends as opposed to strangers. Previous research suggests that, although people who have a close bond have the feeling they communicate better, this is not necessarily the case, and that social interactions with more peripheral members of our social networks contribute to our well-being.
Professor Phillips adds: “Another important topic we are looking at is age differences in close and peripheral relationships. We know that it is important for people to have close friends, but also having a wider social network of acquaintances helps our emotional well-being too.
“We are interested in whether aging affects these types of relationships or how they impact on us.”
Researchers are looking for volunteers aged 60-85 who could come to the University with a friend in a similar age group. They would have their photographs taken and fill in some questionnaires, then come back to do a computer task involving eye-tracking. This means wearing special glasses which record exactly where you are looking on a computer screen.