Hour Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

Future Time Perspective and Preoccupation with Negative Events Across the Life Span

Published in: Psychology and Aging, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on May 25, 2016

by JoNell Strough, Wandi Bruine de Bruin, Andrew M. Parker, Philip Lemaster, Nipat Pichayayothin, Rebecca Delaney

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According to socioemotional selectivity theory, older adults' emotional well-being stems from having limited future time perspective that motivates them to maximize well-being in the "here and now." Presumably, then, older adults' time horizons are associated with emotional competencies that boost positive affect and dampen negative affect, but little research has addressed this. Using a US national adult life-span sample (N= 3,933, 18-93 yrs), we found that a two-factor model of future time perspective (focus on future opportunities; focus on limited time) fit the data better than a one-factor model. Through middle age, people perceived the lifespan hourglass as half full—they focused more on future opportunities than limited time. Around age 60, the balance changed to increasingly perceiving the life-span hourglass as half empty—they focused less on future opportunities and more on limited time. This pattern held even after accounting for perceived health, self-reported decision-making ability, and retirement status. At all ages, women's time horizons focused more on future opportunities compared to men's, and men's focused more on limited time. Focusing on future opportunities was associated with reporting less preoccupation with negative events, whereas focusing on limited time was associated with reporting more preoccupation. Older adults reported less preoccupation with negative events and this association was stronger after controlling for their perceptions of limited time and fewer future opportunities, suggesting that other pathways may explain older adults' reports of their ability to disengage from negative events. Insights gained and questions raised by measuring future time perspective as two dimensions are discussed.

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