An Art-based Intergenerational Reminiscence Group Program for High School Students in Hong Kong (AIR Program)


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date11 Oct 2019


By the year 2039 one in four persons will be aged 65 years or older (Hong Kong Population Census, 2016). The World Health Organization (WHO, 2010) suggested intergenerational programmes is an effective way to strengthen the relationship between the young and the old. Previous research on intergenerational solidarity found that local teenagers held negative images and a rejecting attitude of older people in Hong Kong. Correspondingly, older people also espoused negative impressions of youths (Giles & Gallois, 2001; So, & Shek, 2011). If this adverse gap between older people and the young continues and gets worsened, it will affect the harmony of society. 

According to the New Senior Education (NSE) curriculum development (EDB, 2017), “respect the old” is one of the focused educational values that all NSE students (namely F.4 to F.6) should learn. This study therefore aims firstly to design and evaluate a theory-driven, non-familial, intergenerational programme on changing the communication accommodation and age stereotypes of high school students of Hong Kong. Secondly, this study compares the effectiveness on students’ “positive accommodation” and “perception of the older people” between an art-based reminiscence intergenerational group programme (AIR programme) and a general intergenerational programme (GIP programme). The research question was: Is an art-based intergenerational reminiscence group programme more effective than a general intergenerational programme in enhancing positive communication accommodation and the perception of older people for the high school students?

Theoretical Framework - The theoretical underpinnings of the AIR programme with the focus on examining communication behaviours and psychological stereotypes in this study stem from two theories, namely Communication Accommodation Theory (Giles, 1973) and Intergroup Contact Theory (Allport, 1954). These two theories guided the design of the intervention approaches in the AIR programme synthesizing visual arts and reminiscence activities shared by the older people and high school students. The wider base of the intergenerational programmes design was supported by Erikson’s (1963) stages of psychosocial development across the life span. Besides, Intergroup Contact Theory (Allport, 1954) was applied in designing both AIR programme and GIP programme activities (control group) so that effectiveness in communication across the generations under study was maximized: elements of equal status; common goals; co-operation group activities; support by course authority were all included.

Intergenerational Programme Design - This study formulated an AIR programme and evaluated its effectiveness. A pilot study was conducted. Findings illustrated that the intergenerational AIR programme had a significant effect on the high school students’ perception of the older people but no significant effect on the high school students’ positive accommodation in communication, some adjustments in the programme design was then made, such that the programme was tuned to be more “youth driven”, i.e., more communication skills teaching for the students was added.

There were six 90-minute sessions conducted for each programme. In the AIR programme (n = 70 high school students; 2 students and 1 older person formed a team; totally 7 teams in each group; 5 groups in each programme). Session 1 was to introduce the positive communication accommodation strategies and to let participants have an updated understanding of their interlocutors. Sessions 2 to 5 were mainly for participants to exchange past experiences of their lifespan stages through visual art activities. An art exhibition in the last session was for participants to share their reflections in the AIR programme by introducing their artwork. In the GIP programme (n = 70 high school students; 2 students and 1 older person formed a team; totally 7 teams in each group; 5 groups in each programme), each of the six health-based sessions was divided into two parts-health talk and health exercises - which were similar in content to most common intergenerational programmes available in Hong Kong.

Intergenerational Programme Evaluation Design - Mixed-methods study design including both quantitative and qualitative methods was employed. A total of 210 participants (70 older people, age mean = 77; 140 high school students, age mean = 17) were recruited through sampling. A pilot randomized control trial was adopted to control for the similarity between the experimental and control group samples. Social workers interviewed all the older participants, obtained their informed consent, then randomly arranged them into either of the two groups. Fifteen secondary schools with visual art as New Senior Education curriculum were invited to join the interventions. Only schools which had at least 7 male students remained as subject schools of the study. The 10 participating schools were randomly assigned into AIR or GIP programme. 

With the quantitative method, two validated tools were used to measure the two dependent variables: positive accommodation was measured by the 15-item “Perception of Communication - Subscale for Non-Family Type” (Cai et al., 1998). Perception of the older people was measured by the 24-item “The Semantic Differential Scale” (Polizz & Steitz, 1998). Both scales are measured with a 5-point Likert response format. The impact of the AIR Program was constructed by the author and verified by two language teachers to make sure the wording was accurate. Cronbach’s Alpha of the item from 0.60 through 0.70 was considered as an acceptable score (Dziuban & Shirkey, 1976). 

The qualitative method utilized information gleaned from reflection writing (N = 35/105); response to open-ended questions (N = 70/560) and focus group discussions (N = 24/216). From open-ended questions, 560 items of key word were collected. From reflection writing, words relating to the 3 intervention approaches, totally 105 items, were collected. From focus group interviews, transcripts on 9 open–ended questions were carried out. There were three focus group discussions, where 27 transcripts were collected in total. All the responses were analysed using “thematic analysis to build a picture of the respondents’ collective experiences” (Aronson, 1994). Due to broad responses from the three sources, manual coding of the data by researcher was chosen. A codebook was developed on the range and wording of descriptors for types of response. 

Ethical approval was obtained from the City University of Hong Kong, informed consent was obtained both from the older people, through South Kwai Chung service centre, and from the high school students, by way of their parents' permission, through the schools.

Findings - The quantitative research found that the high school students in AIR programme scored higher in the two dependent variables: positive accommodation and perceptions of the older people than students taking the GIP programme. Besides this, within group, the AIR programme enhanced the high school students’ positive accommodation behaviour and their positive perception of the older people when comparing their scores at pre-test and post-test. From qualitative research, the intergenerational communication strategies used in the AIR programme very strongly affected the high school students’ communication behaviours in positive direction, while the transmissive reminiscence significantly influenced the high school students’ perception of other people in a negative direction. The outcome closely matched with the reminiscence theory in that transmissive reminiscence is related to older people but not related to the youth. However, notwithstanding the high school students being too young to transmit wisdom to others, their self-worth was enhanced by integrative reminiscence. In addition, the students’ perception of older people presented some complex outcomes by visual art. Of the three sub-dimensions in visual art intervention, the students’ responses were significantly positive for “visual perception” but significantly negative for “art exhibition”. High school students might associate the older people with poverty and found them lacking in art experience. The students showed little empathy for the elders even though they found the older people readily cooperative in the art-making process and positive in sharing in the art exhibition.

The quantitative findings of the study supported both hypotheses: Hypothesis 1 The AIR programme will enhance high school students’ positive accommodation more than the GIP programme does. 

Hypothesis 2 The AIR programme will enhance the high school students’ positive perception of older people than the GIP programme does.

Recommendations - Findings from the qualitative study revealed that some high school students might continue to hold the negative stereotypes of the old people as poor and useless. This could be related to their lack of empathic learning in the process. It is therefore suggested to revise the AIR programme framework by adding “social emotion engagement” as a moderator to examine the effectiveness of “empathic learning” on modifying students’ negative perception of the older people.

Limitations - This study has two major limitations. Firstly, the art ability of the students was much higher than the older people. Secondly, the students’ education achievements were a lot higher than that of the older people. These two divergences may have affected the high school students’ rejecting attitude toward the latter. The second weakness of this study is that it was hard for the participants to distinguish which intervention activities could change their behaviours to be more positive. The reason is that the three intervention strategies were integrated as one activity in each session. To distinguish the effectiveness of each intervention strategy more clearly, three separated intervention programmes instead of one integrated intervention is suggested.

Contributions - The AIR programme was found to be effective in promoting communication and perception between the older people and high school students. Programmes with similar design are recommended to be carried out by social workers, art teachers, and individuals who are concerned about intergenerational harmony. In terms of knowledge building, the Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) originally focuses on verbal communication, and this study has expanded CAT to include non-verbal aesthetic communication. This major contribution is especially important in today’s digital world, which is full of symbolic environmental resources.

    Research areas

  • Accommodation Communication Theory, intergenerational with life span, non-family type, visual – art, reminiscence approach, Hong Kong