from novelty toward familiar, predictable aspects of life. One prominent conceptual model in life-span psychology noted above, selective optimization with compensation, postulates explicitly that a narrowing of breadth coupled with heightened effort and expertise in selected areas of life reflects successful adaptation to old age (Baltes and Baltes, 1990).

For somewhat different reasons, socioemotional selectivity theory makes similar predictions. According to selectivity theory, perceived constraints on time result in motivational changes that favor goals related to regulating emotional states over goals associated with gaining knowledge or otherwise expanding one’s horizons. In studies that use social choice paradigms, for example, older participants are reliably more likely to opt for well-known, emotionally significant partners over novel social partners (Fredrickson and Carstensen, 1990; Fung and Carstensen, 2004; Fung, Carstensen, and Lutz, 1999; Fung, Lai, and Ng, 2001). Even basic cognitive processes, like memory and attention, appear to be affected by motivational changes. Empirical tests of selectivity theory demonstrate that memory for advertisements is better when slogans promise emotional rewards than when they promise informational rewards (Fung and Carstensen, 2003). Thus, there is considerable evidence that, with age, people grow more interested in emotional satisfaction and less interested in seeking novelty. This resistance to trying new things has important implications for initiating change, and it is an important priority for research to illuminate how the motivation to avoid change influences self-regulation, as well as basic cognitive and emotional processes.

Emotional Processes and Self-Regulation

It has been widely noted that negative emotional states lead to relapse for a number of addictive behaviors, such as alcoholism and smoking. Distress increases craving for alcohol among those trying to control alcohol intake (Litt et al., 1990), which, in turn, leads to drinking (Hull and Young, 1983; Miller et al., 1974). Similarly, the single most important trigger for smoking urges is a negative emotional state (Marlatt, 1985; Shiffman, 1982): people smoke in order to control stress (Kassel, Stroud, and Paronis, 2003). Emotional distress has also been identified as a major determinant of diet failure and binge eating (Greeno and Wing, 1994; Heatherton and Baumeister, 1996). According to this research, when a person’s emotional state conveys negative implications about the self, people are especially motivated to shut out painful self-awareness, either by external means (such as consuming alcohol) or by restricting attentional focus to potent stimuli through cognitive narrowing. The resulting mental state may indeed be less distressing, but it is also likely to lead to disinhibition, and the long-term consequences of these escapist strategies might exacerbate future dis-

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement