Socioemotional Selectivity Theory, Aging, and Health: The Increasingly Delicate Balance Between Regulating Emotions and Making Tough Choices



Abstract After providing an introductory overview of socioemotional selectivity theory, we review empirical evidence for its basic postulates and consider the implications of the predicted cognitive and behavioral changes for physical health. The main assertion of socioemotional selectivity theory is that when boundaries on time are perceived, present-oriented goals related to emotional meaning are prioritized over future-oriented goals aimed at acquiring information and expanding horizons. Such motivational changes, which are strongly correlated with chronological age, systematically influence social preferences, social network composition, emotion regulation, and cognitive processing. On the one hand, there is considerable reason to believe that such changes are good for well-being and social adjustment. On the other hand, the very same motivational changes may limit health-related information-seeking and influence attention, memory, and decision-making such that positive material is favored over negative information. Grounding our arguments in socioemotional selectivity theory, we consider possible ways to tailor contexts such that disadvantages are avoided.