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Psychol Aging. 1999 Dec;14(4):595-604.

Influence of time on social preferences: implications for life-span development.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Stanford University, California 94305, USA. fung@psych.stanford.edu


Socioemotional selectivity theory holds that the reliable decline in social contact in later life is due, in part, to older people's preferences for emotionally meaningful social partners and that such preferences are due not to age, per se, but to perceived limitations on time. Confirming the theory, in both the United States and Hong Kong, older people showed a preference for familiar social partners, whereas younger people did not show this preference. However, when asked to imagine an expansive future, older people's bias for familiar social partners disappeared. Conversely, in the face of a hypothesized constraint on time, both younger and older people preferred familiar social partners. Moreover, social preferences in Hong Kong differed before and after the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China, which was construed as a sociopolitical time constraint. One year prior to the handover, only older people displayed preferences for familiar partners. Two months before the handover, both age groups showed such preferences. One year after the handover, once again, only older Hong Kong people preferred familiar social partners.

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