First, in your opinion, are adults at age 25, 45, or 65 most interested in making new friends?
Psychologist Laura Carstensen of Stanford University has been studying life-span changes in emotional experience, regulation, and control for the past 25 years. She co-created Socio-Emotional Selectivity Theory, which not only answers the above question, but provides a surprising explanation for the answer. The theory proposes and the data demonstrate, not surprisingly, that in general adolescents and young adults are more interested in exploration, novelty, new knowledge, and new relationships than are older adults. Older adults, conversely, are more interested in routine, emotional comfort, familiarity, and deepening existing relationships.
The reason, however, is not their age. Rather, the reason is how much longer the individual expects to be alive, which the researchers call “perceived time.” The shorter one’s perceived time, the more strongly one prefers familiar relationships over new relationships at any age. This includes, for example, young adults who are seriously ill or engaged in a violent lifestyle likely to bring their early demise. Typically, younger adults expect many more decades, so are eager to spread out their emotional energy, and assume they can deepen and savor their “old” links further down the road, but only due to greater perceived time.
Second, in your opinion, are adults at age 25, 45, or 65 most adept at avoiding strongly unpleasant emotions? Which group, on average, is more plagued by inner distress? Researchers including Carstensen and Frieder Lang have shown that more years of life produce more effective skill at regulating one’s emotions. Not only are groups of older adults better at actively and purposefully maintaining, transforming, and discontinuing social relationships. They also consistently report fewer negative emotional experiences and greater emotional stability than do groups of younger adults. The belief, prevalent in the 1970s, that depression was the “common cold” of later life is now known to be not only incorrect, but upside down. The prevalence of major depressive disorder in adults consistently falls with age, from 8.7% among 18-25 year olds, to 7.6% among 26-49 year olds, to 5.1% among 50+ year olds.
I think these findings are all quite heartening. We are learning more and more about motivations and normal age trends in relationship preferences, and we can all look forward to falling risks of depression as we move into our futures.
I look forward to hearing what you think about this!
“My passion is ensuring that every adult is mentally ready to succeed in all transitions that comprise the adult years. The meaning in my life comes from helping my patients see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude.