Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Communication Monographs 67:1 (March 2000), pp. 20–41.

doi: 10.1080/03637750009376493


Copyright © 2000 National Communication Association; published by Routledge/Taylor and Francis. Used by permission.


The current paper examines younger and older adults’ cognitive representations of intergenerational conversations. In interviews, younger and older adults were asked to imagine various types of conversations with older and younger targets. They were prompted to provide a wide variety of information about the targets and the conversations. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed to uncover types of conversations commonly reported. Through a combination of coding and hierarchical cluster analysis, a hierarchical arrangement of types of conversations emerged in younger and older adults’ descriptions. Each of the types is described in detail. In a second study, exemplars of each type were sorted by younger and older adults and subjected to multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis. The results supported the validity of the types from Study 1, and suggested dimensions underlying this arrangement (positive-negative and helping–not helping for the younger adults; positive-negative and high-low change orientation for the older adults). The findings are discussed in terms of the communication predicament of aging model, and the role that these representations of conversations may play in future research. It is argued that knowledge of these cognitive representations of communication provides a new perspective on the ways in which intergenerational interactions may progress.