tivity Theory (SST) argues that as people age, they become increasingly selective by investing greater resources in emotionally meaningful goals and activities. Present-oriented goals with emotional meaning are prioritized over future-oriented goals aimed at acquiring information about future decisions and expanding horizons (Löckenhoff and Carstensen, 2004). Due to a gradual decline in cognitive functioning and the ability to deal with complex cognitive tasks, the elderly seek out more emotional goals. Such motivations further limit their ability to seek information as well as their attention, memory, and cognition processing. However, cognitively stimulating social activity is hypothesized to benefit cognitive functions by providing resistance to mental diseases, such as dementia, and by reducing rates of cognitive decline (Hsu, 2007; Wang et al., 2002). The effects of different social activities on cognitive functions of the old warrant more exploration, especially for China where little research currently exists in part due to the lack of high-quality micro data.
A large volume of literature has investigated the relationship between cognition and social activities or social engagement among the elderly (Allaire and Marsiske, 1999; Wang et al., 2002; Zunzunegui et al., 2003). These studies confirm a positive relationship between the two. Among these studies, Zunzunegui et al. (2003), using data from a longitudinal survey of community-dwelling people over age 65, analyzed causal effects of social networks, social integration, and social engagement on cognitive decline of community-dwelling older Spanish adults with social variables measured at baseline, and cognitive change and decline measured after four years of follow-up. They were unable to determine whether the observed effect of social relations on cognitive function was the result of cumulative lifelong exposure to extensive social networks or a consequence of an abrupt change from an extensive network to a more limited one.
Similar studies on the relation between cognition and social activities in developing countries such as China are more fragmentary, primarily due to the lack of relevant data and a concentration on the young relative to health of the elderly. Asian populations are of particular interest because their elderly people are more likely to reside with their children and social activities may play different roles in their lives than in the western world. Glei et al. (2005) and Hsu (2007) are two exceptions that used longitudinal data from a survey of elderly in Taiwan and explored the effects of social participation on cognitive function. Hsu (2007) focused on regular social group participation and ignored leisure activity. He found that participating in any of these social groups has no significant correlation with cognitive function. Glei et al. (2005) used a broader definition of social interaction that includes more recreational activities and found that participating in these social activities may play an important role