A test of socioemotional selectivity theory in the context of health information


The socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) states that individuals who perceive time as expansive are more likely to choose less emotionally-meaningful goals; whereas, those who view time as more finite tend to select more emotional goals. Additionally, individuals with a limited time perspective (e.g., older adults) tend to preferentially recall emotional information. The purpose of this study was to identify differences between younger and older adults' recall of emotional and factual health information. Consistent with the SST, and given that older adults tend to perceive time as more limited than younger adults, we hypothesized that older adults would recall a higher proportion of emotional information than younger adults. Our sample (n = 59) consisted of 28 younger adults (age = 18-26 years) and 32 older adults (age = 64-95 years). Participants were asked to read an article about a man with a fictional health condition whose experiences were described using factual and emotional information. The fictional disease was used to ensure that participants would not be influenced by any previous knowledge of, or experience with, the disease. The participants then completed a series of distraction tasks (e.g., crossword puzzle) for 30 minutes, and an oral recall of all of the information they could remember from the article. Consistent with our prediction, older adults recalled a significantly higher proportion of emotional information compared to their younger counterparts (t(51) = -1.98, p = 0.05). This suggests that health messages may be more meaningful when information is tailored to a specific age group, and could be an effective way of educating individuals on healthy lifestyle behaviours.