Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 103–123

Socioemotional Selectivity Theory and the Regulation of Emotion in the Second Half of Life


  • Laura L. Carstensen
    • Department of PsychologyStanford University
  • Helene H. Fung
    • Department of PsychologyStanford University
  • Susan T. Charles
    • Department of PsychologyStanford University

DOI: 10.1023/A:1024569803230

Cite this article as:
Carstensen, L.L., Fung, H.H. & Charles, S.T. Motivation and Emotion (2003) 27: 103. doi:10.1023/A:1024569803230


Far more attention has been paid to emotion regulation in childhood than in adulthood and old age. However, a growing body of empirical research suggests that the emotion domain is largely spared from deleterious processes associated with aging and points instead to developmental gains in later life. By applying tenets from socioemotional selectivity theory, we attempt to explain the observed gains in terms of motivation. We argue that age is associated with increasing motivation to derive emotional meaning from life and decreasing motivation to expand one's horizons. These changes lead to age differences in social and environmental choices (consistent with antecedent emotion regulation), coping (consistent with response-focused regulation), and cognitive processing of positive and negative information (consistent with goal-directed attention and memory). Broader implications for life-span development are discussed.

motivationaginglife-span developmentmemoryemotion regulation
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© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2003