Time, Culture, and Life-Cycle Changes of Social Goals



Sophie loved meeting different kinds of people and joining various social activities when she was young. Yet, as she grew older, she gradually reduced her social contacts. At Sophie’s 65th birthday, her family members suggested inviting the entire neighborhood to her birthday party. But she declined. Rather than having a noisy party packed with people, she preferred having a private dinner with a handful of close relatives.

Paul, at his early thirties, was eager to strive for career success and spent almost all his time on work. However, when he found out that he had lung cancer, he shifted his focus away from his career. He now spent more time with his wife and his close friends.

Though the shifts in social goals in the above two cases are seemingly different, we argue that they both reflect the same underlying motivational process. Gentle and not-so-gentle life events, such as aging or being diagnosed with a terminal illness, remind us of the finitude of life, which in turn affects our priorities and goals. In this chapter, we will first review theories and research on how social goals change across adulthood, and how time perspective may account for the change. Then we will describe how time perspective differs across socio-cultural contexts and review empirical evidences for the effects of these differences on social goals. Finally, we will discuss the theoretical and practical implications of understanding the role of perceived time in social motivation.


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Social Preference Time Perspective Social Goal Social Partner 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Work by the first author was supported by two direct grants for research from Chinese University of Hong Kong and an Endowment Fund Research Grant from United College, Chinese University of Hong Kong.


  1. Adams, C. (1991). Qualitative age differences in memory for text: A life-span developmental perspective. Psychology and Aging, 6, 323–336.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Adams, C., Labouvie-Vief, G., Hobart, C. J., & Dorosz, M. (1990). Adult age group differences in story recall style. Journal of Gerontology, 45, P17–P27.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Adams, C., Smith, M. C., Nyquist, L., & Perlmutter, M. (1997). Adult age-group differences in recall for the literal and interpretive meanings of narrative text. Journal of Gerontology, 52, P187–P193.Google Scholar
  4. Bäckman, L., & Dixon, R. A. (1992). Psychological compensation: A theoretical framework. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 259–283.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Baltes, P. B. (1997). On the incomplete architecture of human ontogeny: Selection, optimization, and compensation as foundation of developmental theory. American Psychologist, 52, 366–380.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Baltes, P. B., & Baltes, M. M. (1990). Psychological perspectives on successful aging: The model of selective optimization with compensation. In P. B. Baltes & M. M. Baltes (Eds.), Successful aging: Perspectives from the behavioral sciences (pp. 1–34). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanisms in human agency. American Psychologist, 37, 122–147.Google Scholar
  8. Bengtson, V. L., & Dowd, J. J. (1980–81). Sociological functionalism, exchange theory and life-cycle analysis: A call for more explicit theoretical bridges. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 12, 55–73Google Scholar
  9. Blanchard-Fields, F., Chen, Y., & Norris, L. (1997). Everyday problem solving across the adult life span: Influence of domain specificity and cognitive appraisal. Psychology and Aging, 12, 684–693.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Blanchard-Fields, F., Jahnke, H. C., & Camp, C. (1995). Age differences in problem-solving style: The role of emotional salience. Psychology and Aging, 10, 173–180.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Brandtstädter, J., & Greve, W. (1994). The aging self: Stabilizing and protective processes. Developmental Review, 14, 52–80.Google Scholar
  12. Brandtstädter, J. (1999). The self in action and development: Cultural, biosocial, and ontogenetic bases of intentional self-development. In J. Brandtstädter & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Action and self-development: Theory and research through the lifespan (pp. 37–66). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  13. Brandtstädter, J., & Baltes-Gotz, B. (1990). Personal control over development and quality of life perspectives in adulthood. In P. B. Baltes & M. M. Baltes (Eds.), Successful aging: Perspectives from the behavioral sciences (pp. 197–224). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Brandtstädter, J., & Renner, G. (1990). Tenacious goal pursuit and flexible goal adjustment: Explication and age-related analysis of assimilative and accommodation strategies of coping. Psychological and Aging, 5, 58–67.Google Scholar
  15. Brandtstädter, J., Wentura, D., & Greve, W. (1993). Adaptive resources of the aging self: Outlines of an emergent perspective. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 16, 232–349.Google Scholar
  16. Bühler, C., Brind, A., & Horner, A. (1968). Old age as a phase of human life: Questionnaire study. Human Development, 11, 53–63.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Burton, L. M. (1990). Teenage childbearing as an alternative life-course strategy in multigeneration Black families. Human Nature, 1(2), 123–143.Google Scholar
  18. Broom, J. (2001, September 13). This is my Pearl Harbor. The Seattle Times (LEXIS–NEXIS® Academic).Google Scholar
  19. Caldwell, L. (1997). Time and Aging: An Exploration into the Temporal World of Older Adults. Unpublished manuscript, Stanford University.Google Scholar
  20. Carstensen, L. L. (1992). Social and emotional patterns in adulthood: Support for socioemotional selectivity theory. Psychology and Aging, 7, 331–338.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Carstensen, L. L. (1993). Motivation for social contact across the life span: A theory of socioemotional selectivity. In J. Jacobs (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation (pp. 209–254). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  22. Carstensen, L. L. (1995). Evidence for a life-span theory of socioemotional selectivity. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 4, 151–156.Google Scholar
  23. Carstensen, L. L. (1998). A life-span approach to social motivation. In J. Heckhausen & C. Dweck (Eds.), Motivation and self-regulation across the life span (pp. 341–364). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Carstensen, L. L., & Fredrickson, B. F. (1998). Socioemotional selectivity in healthy older people and younger people living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): The centrality of emotion when the future is constrained. Health Psychology, 17, 494–503.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Carstensen, L. L., & Turk-Charles, S. (1994). The salience of emotion across the adult life span. Psychology and Aging, 9, 259–264.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Carstensen, L. L., Fung, H. H., & Charles, S. T. (2003). Socioemotional selectivity theory and emotion regulation in the second half of life. Motivation and Emotion, 27, 103–123.Google Scholar
  27. Carstensen, L. L., Gross, J., & Fung, H. (1997). The social context of emotion. In K. W. Schaie & M. P. Lawton (Eds.), Annual review of gerontology and geriatrics (Vol. 17, pp. 325–352). New York: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  28. Carstensen, L. L., Isaacowitz, D., & Charles, S. T. (1999). Taking time seriously: A theory of socioemotional selectivity. American Psychologist, 54, 165–181.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1988). Personality in adulthood: A six-year longitudinal study of self-reports and spouse ratings on the NEO Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 853–863.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Crawford, G. (1987). Support networks and health-related change in the elderly: Theory-based nursing strategies. Family Community Health, 10, 39–48.Google Scholar
  31. Crown, S. M. (1968). Personality and aging. In K. W. Schaie (Ed.), Theory and methods of research on aging (pp. 134–157). Morgantown, VA: West Virginia University.Google Scholar
  32. Cumming, E., & Henry, W. H. (1961). Growing old: The process of disengagement. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  33. Denes-Raj, V., & Ehrichman, H. (1991). Effects of premature parental death on subjective life expectancy, death anxiety, and health behavior. Omaga, 23(4), 309–321.Google Scholar
  34. Dittmann-Kohli, F., & Westerhof, G. J. (1997). The SELE-Sentence Completion Questionnaire: A new instrument for the assessment of personal meanings in aging research. Anuario de Psicologia, 73, 7–18.Google Scholar
  35. Dowd, J. J. (1980). Aging as exchange: A preface to theory. Journal of Gerontology, 30, 584–594.Google Scholar
  36. Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  37. Erikson, E. H. (1968). Indentity, youth and crisis. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  38. Erikson, E. H. (1982). The life cycle completed: A review. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  39. Field, D., & Minkler, M. (1988). Continuity and change in social support between young-old, old-old, and very-old adults. Journal of Gerontology, 43, P100–P106.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Fredrickson, B. L. (1995). Socioemotional behavior at the end of college life. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12, 261–276.Google Scholar
  41. Fredrickson, B. L., & Carstensen, L. L. (1990). Choosing social partners: How age and anticipated endings make people more selective. Psychology and Aging, 5, 335–347.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Fung, H. H., & Carstensen, L. L. (2006). Goals change when life’s fragility is primed: Lessons learned from Older Adults, the September 11th Attacks and SARS. Social Cognition, 24, 248–278.Google Scholar
  43. 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.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Fung, H. H., & Carstensen, L. L. (2003). Sending memorable messages to the old: Age differences in preferences and memory for emotionally meaningful advertisements. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 163–178.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Fung, H. H., Carstensen, L. L., & Lang, F. R. (2001a). Age-related patterns of social relationships among African-Americans and Caucasian-Americans: Implications for socioemotional selectivity across the life span. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 52, 185–206.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Fung, H. H., Carstensen, L. L., & Lutz, M. A. (1999). Influence of time on social preferences: Implications for life-span development. Psychology and Aging, 14, 595–604.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Fung, H. H., Kuiken, D., Mcewan, A, & Wild, C. (2002). Time perspective, emotion-focused coping, and spirituality. Manuscript in preparation.Google Scholar
  48. Fung, H. H., Lai, P., & Ng, R. (2001b). Age differences in social preferences among Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese: The role of perceived Time. Psychology and Aging, 16, 351–356.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. George, L. K., Blazer, D. F., Winfield-Laird, I., Leaf, P. J., & Fischback, F. R. (1988). Psychiatric disorders and mental health service use in later life: Evidence from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Program. In J. Brody & G. Maddox (Eds.), Epidemiology and aging (pp. 189–219). New York: Van Nostrand Rand.Google Scholar
  50. Gordon, C., & Gaitz, C. (1976). Leisure and lives. In R. Binstock & E. Shanas (Eds.), Handbook of aging and the social sciences (Vol. 1, pp. 310–341). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.Google Scholar
  51. Gotay, C. C. (1984). The experience of cancer during early and advanced stages: The views of patients and their mates. Social Science and Medicine, 18(7), 605–613.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78, 1360–1380.Google Scholar
  53. Gutman, G. M. (1966). A note on the MPI: Age and sex differences in extroversion and neuroticism in a Canadian sample. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 5, 128–129.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Guy, B. S., Rittenburg, T. L., & Hawes, D. K. (1994). Dimensions and characteristics of time perceptions and perspectives among older consumers. Psychology & Marketing, 11, 35–56.Google Scholar
  55. Harvey, A. S., & Singleton, J. F. (1989). Canadian activity patterns across the life span: A time budget perspective. Canadian Journal on Aging, 8, 268–285.Google Scholar
  56. Hashtroudi, S., Johnson, M. K., & Chrosniak, L. D. (1990). Aging and qualitative characteristics of memories for perceived and imagined complex events. Psychology and Aging, 5, 119–126.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Havighurst, R. J., & Albrecht, R. (1953). Older people. New York: Longmans.Google Scholar
  58. Heckhausen, J. & Schulz, R. (1994). Primacy of primary control as an universal feature of human behavior. Paper presented at the 13th Biennial Meetings of the International Society of the Study of Behavioral Development, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  59. Heckhausen, J., & Schulz, R. (1995). A life-span theory of control. Psychological Review, 102, 284–304.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Heckhausen, J., Dixon, R. A., & Baltes, P. B. (1989). Gains and losses in development throughout adulthood as perceived by different age groups. Developmental Psychology, 25, 109–121.Google Scholar
  61. Henry, W. E., & Cumming, E. (1959). Personality development in adulthood and old age. Journal of Projective Techniques, 23, 383–390.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Heron, A., & Chown, S. M. (1967). Age and function. London: Churchill.Google Scholar
  63. Herzog, A. R., & Rogers, W. L. (1981). Age and satisfaction: Data from several large surveys. Research on Aging, 3, 142–165.Google Scholar
  64. Hogan, D. P., Eggebeen, D. J., & Clogg, C. C. (1993). The structure of intergenerational exchanges in American families. American Journal of Sociology, 6, 1428–1458.Google Scholar
  65. Hooyman, N. R., & Kiyak, H. A. (1993). Social gerontology (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  66. James, W. (1980/1950). The principles of psychology. New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  67. Jeppsson-Grassman, E. (1993). The short life: The life-span construct of visually impaired adults with diabetes. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 87, 371–375.Google Scholar
  68. Jung, C. G. (1931). Die Debenswende (Life’s turning point). In C. G. Jung (Ed.), Seelenprobleme der Gegenwart (Psychological problems of today) (pp. 248–274). Zurich: Rascher.Google Scholar
  69. Jung, C. G. (1953). The structure and dynamics of the psych. In: H. Read, M. Fordham, & G. Adler (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 8, pp. 119–410). New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  70. Jung, C. G. (1960). The stages of life. Collected works (Vol. 8). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Kausar, R., & Akram, M. (1999). Cognitive appraisal and coping of patients with terminal versus nonterminal diseases. Journal of Behavioral Science, 9, 13–28.Google Scholar
  72. Kennedy, Q., Fung, H. H., & Carstensen, L. L. (2001). Aging, time estimation and emotion. In S. H. McFadden & R. C. Atchley (Eds). Aging and the meaning of time. (pp. 51–74). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  73. Kin, A. M. Y., & Fung, H. H. (2004). Goals and social network composition among young adults with and without a history of cancer. Journal of Psychology in Chinese Societies, 5, 97–111.Google Scholar
  74. Labouvie-Vief, G. (1997). Cognitive-emotional integration in adulthood. In K. W. Schaie & M. P. Lawton (Eds.), Annual review of gerontology and geriatrics (Vol. 17, pp. 206–237). New York: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  75. Labouvie-Vief, G., Hakim-Larson, J., DeVoe, M., & Schoeberlein, S. (1989). Emotions and self-regulation: A life span view. Human Development, 32, 279–299.Google Scholar
  76. Lang, F. R., & Carstensen, L. L. (1994). Close emotional relationships in late life: Further support for proactive aging in the social domain. Psychology and Aging, 9, 315–324.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  77. Lang, F. R. (2000). Endings and Continuity of Social Relationships: Maximizing Intrinsic Benefits Within Personal Networks When Feeling Near to Death? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17, 157–184.Google Scholar
  78. Lang, F. R., & Carstensen, L. L. (2002). Time counts: Future time perspective, goals, and social relationships. Psychology and Aging, 17, 125–139.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  79. Lang, F. R., Staudinger, U. M., & Carstensen, L. L. (1998). Perspectives on socio-emotional selectivity in late life: How personality and social context do (and do not) make a difference. Journals of Gerontology, 53, 21–30.Google Scholar
  80. Larson, R., Mannell, R., & Zuzanek, J. (1986). Daily well-being of older adults with friends and family. Psychology and Aging, 1, 117–126.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  81. Lawton, M. P., DeVoe, M. R., & Parmelee, P. (1995). Relationship of events and affect in the daily life of an elderly population. Psychology and Aging, 10, 469–477.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  82. Lawton, M. P., Moss, M., & Fulcomer, M. (1986–87). Objective and subjective uses of time by older people. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 24, 171–188Google Scholar
  83. Lazarus, R. S. (1996). The role of coping in the emotions and how coping changes over the life course. In C. Magai & S. H. McFadden (Eds.), Handbook of emotion, adult development, and aging (pp. 289–306). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  84. Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal and coping. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  85. Lee, D. J., & Markides, K. S. (1990). Activity and mortality among aged persons over an eight-year period. The Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 45, 39–42.Google Scholar
  86. Liu, C. K. M., & Fung, H. H. (2005). Gang members’ social network composition and psychological well-being: Extending socioemotional selectivity theory to the study of gang involvement. Journal of Psychology in Chinese Societies, 6, 89–108.Google Scholar
  87. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1994). Goal setting theory. In H. F. O'Neil Jr. & M. Drillings (Eds.), Motivation: Theory and research (pp. 13–29). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  88. Maddox, G. L. (1963). Activity and morale: A longitudinal study of selected elderly subjects. Social Forces, 42, 195–204.Google Scholar
  89. Manuel, R. C. (1988). The demography of older adults. In J. S. Jackson, P. Newton, A. Ostfield, D. Savage & E. L. Schneider (Eds.), The black American elderly: Research on physical and psychological health (pp. 25–49). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  90. Montero, D. (1980). The elderly Japanese American: Aging among the first generation immigrants. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 101, 99–118.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  91. Mutran, E. (1985). Intergenerational family support among Blacks and Whites: Response to culture or to socioeconomic differences. Journal of Gerontology, 40(3), 382–389.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  92. National Center for Health Statistics. (1994). Vital Statistics of the U.S., 1990 (Vol. 2: Mortality, pt. A). Maryland: Public Health ServiceGoogle Scholar
  93. Neugarten, B. L. (1977). Personality and aging. In J. E. Birren & K. W. Schaie (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology and aging (pp. 626–649). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.Google Scholar
  94. Neugarten, B. L. (ed). (1968). Middle age and aging. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  95. Nurmi, J.-E. (1992). Age differences in adult life goals, concerns and their temporal extension: A life course approach to future-oriented motivation. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 15, 487–508.Google Scholar
  96. Nuttin, M. (1985). Future time perspective and motivation: Theory and research method. Leuven Belgium: Leuven University Press/Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  97. Oyserman, D., Coon, H.-M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 3–72.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  98. Palmore, E. (1981). Social patterns in normal aging: Findings from the Duke Longitudinal Study. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  99. Perry, C. M., & Johnson, C. L. (1994). Families and support networks among African American oldest-old. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 38(1), 41–50.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  100. Reker, G. T., Peacook, E. J., & Wong, P. T. P. (1987). Meaning and purpose in life and well-being: A life-span perspective. Journal of Gerontology, 42, 44–49.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  101. Revenson, T. A. (1986). Debunking the myth of loneliness in late life. In E. Seidman & J. Rappaport (Eds.), Redefining social problems (pp. 115–135). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  102. Robbins, R. A. (1988). Objective and subjective factors in estimating life expectancy. Psychological Reports, 63, 47–53.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  103. Rosenbaum, M. (1983). Learned resourcefulness as a behavioral repertoire for the self-regulation of internal events: Issues and speculation. In M. Rosenbaum, C. M. Franks & Y. Jaffe (Eds.), Perspectives on behavioral therapy in the eighties (pp. 54–73). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  104. Ryff, C. D. (1989a). In the eye of the beholder: Views of psychological well-being among middle-aged and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 4, 195–210.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  105. Ryff, C. D. (1989b). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1069–1081.Google Scholar
  106. Ryff, C. D. (1991). Possible selves in adulthood and old age: A tale of shifting horizons. Psychology and Aging, 6, 286–295.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  107. Ryff, C. D., & Heincke, S. G. (1983). Subjective organization of personality in adulthood and aging. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 44, 807–816.Google Scholar
  108. Sabatini, P., & Kastenbaum, R. (1973). The do-it-yourself death certificate as a research technique. Life-threatening Behavior, 3(1), 20–32.Google Scholar
  109. Slater, P. E., & Scarr, H. A. (1964). Personality in old age. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 70, 229–269.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  110. Staudinger, U. M., Freund, A. M., Linden, M., & Maas, I. (1999). Self, personality, and life regulation: Facets of psychological resilience in old age. In P. B. Baltes & K. U. Mayer (Eds.), The Berlin Aging Study: Aging from 70 to 100 (pp. 302–328). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  111. Stewart, D., & Vaux, A. (1986). Social support resources, behaviors, and perceptions among Black and White college students. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 14(2), 65–72.Google Scholar
  112. Taylor, R. J. (1988). Aging and supportive relationships among black Americans. In J. S. Jackson, P. Newton, A. Ostfield, D. Savage & E. L. Schneider (Eds.), The black American elderly: Research on physical and psychological health (pp. 259–281). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  113. Taylor, S. E., Kemeny, M. E., Reed, G. M., Bower, J., & Gruenewald, T. L. (2000). Psychological resources, positive illusions, and health. American Psychologist, 55, 99–109.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  114. The Sun (2001, September 16). Behaviors of War. Retrieved December 21, 2001, from
  115. Troll, L. E. (1994). Family-embedded vs. family-deprived oldest-old: A study of contrasts. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 38(1), 51–63.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  116. U.S. Bureau of the Census (1999). International Data Base [On-line]. Available at:
  117. Whitrow, G. J. (1972). The nature of time. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chinese University of Hong KongHong KongThe People’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations