Details
Study title
Social Approach and Avoidance Motivation - The Role of Age
Ref study 9909
Study language English
Contributing institutions
Authors
Keywords
  • Entwicklung
  • Motivation
  • Soziale Beziehungen
  • Annäherung
  • Vermeidung
Disciplines
Period
2010-2014
Geographical space
Zürich
Country
Abstract
We propose to conduct a set of studies designed to investigate the relationship between age and social approach and avoidance motivation. Social approach motivation is related to desired states activating movement toward the social goal. In contrast, avoidance motivation is related to undesired states activating behavior away from the dreaded social state. Social approach motivation leads to positive social experience and social success, social avoidance motivation is associated with negative social experience and social failure (cf. Nikitin & Freund, 2008). What factors determine the strength of the effect of social approach and avoidance motivation on social experiences? We propose that chronological age might play an important role in the importance of social motivation. More specifically, we hypothesize that the effect of social approach and avoidance motivation for social experience and behavior declines with increasing age, due to an age-related drop of importance of new social relationships. This drop might be mediated by (1) a limited future-time perspective, and (2) the presence of long-term relationships. Social relations are important throughout life and play an important role for successful aging (e.g., Freund, Nikitin, & Ritter, 2009; Freund & Riediger, 2003). Dispositional social approach and avoidance motivation are particularly influential in new social situations (Levy, Ayduk, & Downey, 2001; Sokolowski & Heckhausen, 2006). In such situations, individuals have to act without having much information about how to interpret the situation and the adaptiveness of different actions. Therefore, people have to fall back on their dispositions to help them guide their interpretations and actions. Although - as with most personality characteristics - social approach and avoidance motivation should be relatively stable over the course of adulthood (Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005), we hypothesize that the effect of approach and avoidance motivation on guiding the interpretation and behavior in new social situations might decline. This hypothesis is based on the assumption that the importance of new social relationships declines across adulthood. Young adults might be particularly motivated to expand their social network in order to gain information and support serving their central developmental goals (e.g., moving out of the parental home, establishing a career, finding a romantic partner). With increasing age, however, the emphasis on expanding one's social network begins to diminish (for a review see Lang, 2001). According to Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999), a limited future time-perspective is related to focusing on few emotionally meaningful social ties because such ties have more immediate payoffs. Investing into the future only makes sense when there is a future in which to reap the fruits of one's efforts. SST posits that because of their more limited future time-perspective, older adults are more likely to focus on familiar social partners than younger adults. A decrease in the importance of new social situations in old age, then, should also lower the impact of social approach and avoidance motivation on the interpretation and experience of such situations as well as the social behavior. In addition, older adults are more likely than young adults to have very long-standing relationships (partner, friends, children; cf. Antonucci, Ajrouch, & Birditt, 2006). One might even suggest that their affiliation motive is "saturated" with long-standing social relations. This also suggests that older adults might not be as interested in establishing new social relationships as younger adults. The "saturation" of social needs with familiar social partners might also contribute to a decrease in importance of new social situations in older as compared to younger adults. If, on average, getting to know new people becomes less important in old age, encountering novel social situations should hold less significance for older than for younger people, and hence be less "diagnostic" for their approach and avoidance motivation. In other words, social approach and avoidance motivation should be less influential in novel social situations for older than for younger adults. These hypotheses can best be tested using a multi-methods approach (self-report, behavioral observation, social-cognitive paradigms) in a set of studies combining cross-sectional age-group comparisons and experimental settings. Together, these studies could provide important insight into social, emotional, and motivational changes across adulthood.
Results
Methods (description)
To test our hypotheses, a total of five studies are proposed. Study 1 is a correlational study that will test the entire path-model. Study 2 and 3 test age-related differences in the association between social approach and avoidance motivation and attentional preference for positive and negative social stimuli (Study 2) as well as the experience and behavior in a social interaction (Study 3). Study 4 and 5 will experimentally test the causal predictions of the model. Using the same tasks as Study 2 and 3, Study 4 and 5 will manipulate the time perspective and the focus on the duration of social relationships, and test their joint impact on the association between social approach and avoidance motivation and attentional preference for positive and negative social stimuli (Study 4), as well as experience and behavior in a social interaction (Study 5).
Methods (instruments)
Replicated study No
Publications
  • Nikitin, Jana; Freund, Alexandra M.. 2015. Adult age differences in frequency estimations of happy and angry faces. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 39, 266-274. Online: 10.1177/0165025414542838
  • Nikitin, Jana; Schoch, Simone; Freund, Alexandra M.. 2014. The role of age and motivation for the experience of social acceptance and rejection. Developmental Psychology, 50, 1943-1950. Online: 10.1037/a0036979
  • Nikitin, Jana; Freund, Alexandra M.. 2011. Age and motivation predict gaze behavior for facial expressions. Psychology and Aging, 26, 695-700. Online: 10.1037/a0023281
Financed by
Ethical approval No
Study type
Data availability
Source (Updates) Web
Date created 15.12.2015
Date modified 08.01.2016
Start - End date 01.01.2010 - 01.04.2014