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Thinking about a limited future enhances the positivity of younger and older adults’ recall: support for socioemotional selectivity theory

Barber, S. J., Opitz, P. C., Martins, B., Sakaki, M. and Mather, M. (2016) Thinking about a limited future enhances the positivity of younger and older adults’ recall: support for socioemotional selectivity theory. Memory & Cognition, 44 (6). pp. 869-882. ISSN 1532-5946

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3758/s13421-016-0612-0

Abstract/Summary

Compared with younger adults, older adults have a relative preference to attend to and remember positive over negative information. This is known as the “positivity effect,” and researchers have typically evoked socioemotional selectivity theory to explain it. According to socioemotional selectivity theory, as people get older they begin to perceive their time left in life as more limited. These reduced time horizons prompt older adults to prioritize achieving emotional gratification and thus exhibit increased positivity in attention and recall. Although this is the most commonly cited explanation of the positivity effect, there is currently a lack of clear experimental evidence demonstrating a link between time horizons and positivity. The goal of the current research was to address this issue. In two separate experiments, we asked participants to complete a writing activity, which directed them to think of time as being either limited or expansive (Experiments 1 and 2) or did not orient them to think about time in a particular manner (Experiment 2). Participants were then shown a series of emotional pictures, which they subsequently tried to recall. Results from both studies showed that regardless of chronological age, thinking about a limited future enhanced the relative positivity of participants’ recall. Furthermore, the results of Experiment 2 showed that this effect was not driven by changes in mood. Thus, the fact that older adults’ recall is typically more positive than younger adults’ recall may index naturally shifting time horizons and goals with age.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience
ID Code:62122
Publisher:Springer

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