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Socioemotional selectivity theory

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The claim of Socioemotional Selectivity Theory is that people's awareness of how much time they have lived in life. The theory has two categories of goals. Future oriented goals aim at children, older adults,  acquisition, career planning, the development of new social relationships and other endeavors that will pay off in the future. Present-oriented goals are aimed at emotion regulation, the pursuit of emotionally gratifying interactions with social partners and other pursuits whose benefits can be realized in the present. When people perceive their future as open ended, they tend to focus on future-oriented goals but when they feel that time is running out, their focus tends to shift towards present-oriented goals. Research on this theory often compares age groups (i.e., young and old adulthood) but the shift in goal priorities is a gradual process that begins in early adulthood. Importantly, the theory contends that it is not age that is causing the goal shifts but age-associated changes in time perspective. Even younger adults have been shown to pursue present-oriented goals when their time perspective is limited by a fatal illness or life changes such as a college graduation and even older adults favor future-oriented goals when they are asked to imagine an extended future for themselves.

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Related articles Edit

  • Carstensen, L.L., Isaacowitz, D.M., & Charles, S.T. (1999). Taking time seriously: A theory of socioemotional selectivity. American Psychologist, 54, 165-181.
  • Mather, M., & Carstensen, L. L. (2005). Aging and motivated cognition: The positivity effect in attention and memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 496-502.
  • Löckenhoff, C.E., and Carstensen, L.L. (2004). Socioemotional selectivity theory, aging, and health: The increasingly delicate balance between regulating emotions and making tough choices. Journal of Personality, 72(6), 1393 - 1424.
  • Fung, H. H., & Carstensen, L. L. (2004). Motivational changes in response to blocked goals and foreshortened Time: Testing alternatives for socioemotional selectivity theory. Psychology and Aging, 19, 68-78.
  • Isaacowitz, D.M, & Pruzan, Katherine. (2006). An Attentional Application of Socioemotional Selectivity Theory in College Students. Social Development, 15, 326-338.


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