What you see in this drawing may show whether you are ageist or not

What do you see – a young woman or an old lady?

Young-old lady illusion. My Wife and My Mother-In-Law, by the cartoonist W. E. Hill, 1915.

This image changes according to your perception.

At first glance, young people tend to see the young woman and older people tend to see the old woman.

It takes a while a looking to see both, the young and the old.

Age bias is everywhere and discrimination may be difficult to police because we’re hardwired toward people closer to yourself in age.

Young people may automatically prefer the company of people their own age over an older person.

And an older person going into a job interview may feel a younger selection panel discriminates or is less objective on the basis of age.

Research led by Flinders University Psychology Professor Mike Nicholls has found our response to others is connected to appearance and age, in a subconscious reaction to appearance.

The study of own-age social biases says the perception of faces depends on “low-level neuronal processes”.

“While our response is also affected by ‘high-level’ social conditioning, we still seem to have an in-built subconscious reaction to even an ambiguous face or figure,” says Nicholls, from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders University.

“This explains why young people tend to hang around with other young people, while older people associate with old and young.

“The effect of this of this in society is that it makes it more difficult to encourage or even enforce inclusive behaviours, even in the workplace.”

In Australia, the Age Discrimination Act 2004 protects people from discrimination on the basis of age, including employment, education, accommodation and the provision of goods and services.

Professor Nicholls says awareness programs need to help counter “automatic” responses to people’s age, and preference for young to prefer younger company over older.

In the study, almost 400 US adults aged over 18 year were briefly shown an ambiguous image of a young and old lady figure, with the test sample not told the study was specifically testing their awareness of age.

The study, Perception of an ambiguous figure is affected by own-age social biases, is published in the journal Scientific Reports.