Negotiating Health Goals over the Lifespan: The Role of Future Time Perspective and Self-construal

Project: Research

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Population aging increases the demands of social and medical resources. Engaging in health behaviors and social activities not only contribute to successful aging, but also ameliorate the strains in societies. As a lifespan motivation theory, the socioemotional selectivity theory (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999) predicts that emotionally meaningful goals are prioritized when future time is perceived as limited. Hence, older adults who likely perceive time as limited may prefer social goals, which are generally emotion-enhancing. However, the extent to which the theory applies to health goals is less well-understood. The distal benefits resulting from health goals may be less emotionally meaningful than the immediate benefits of social goals, and the potential threatening information associated with health goals may also dampen their emotional values (Lockenhoff & Carstensen, 2004). Thus, people with a limited future time perception (FTP) may not prioritize health goals over social goals.Cultural values may also influence the pursuit of health goals through an individual-level factor – interdependent self-construal (i.e., the perception of self as connected with others) that is predominant in collective cultures. Positive stimuli tend to be processed more superiorly than negative stimuli with age. However, this positivity effect is not apparent among Chinese older adults (Fung et al., 2008) and people high in interdependent self-construal (Fung, Isaacowitz, Lu, & Li, 2010), because attending to negative stimuli from others is essential in managing relationships in collective cultures. Hence, older adults with high interdependent self-construal may be more likely to seek and process health-related information than those with low interdependent self-construal.Taking a lifespan perspective, this project aims to compare the selections and prioritization among health and social goals. Study 1 compares the goal dimensions (e.g., importance, emotional meaningfulness) between self-elicited health and social goals across younger and older adults (N=220). The effects of goal dimensions and individual factors (e.g., interdependent self-construal and FTP) on the efforts in goal pursuit will be examined simultaneously in a multilevel model. With the same participants, Study 2 examines the causal effects of FTP on goal prioritization in an experimental setting. Participants will be randomly assigned to three conditions including open-ended futuretime, limited future-time, and unchanged future-time. The desired levels of participation in health behaviors and social activities, as well as the prioritization of the self-elicited goals reported in Study 1, will be examined before and after the manipulation across the three conditions.


Project number9041851
Grant typeECS
Effective start/end date1/01/139/01/17