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Motivation - Social Motivation And Self-esteem In Old Age

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Among the basic motivational processes, the need for interpersonal relationships, for positive self-regard, and for meaning in life serve as powerful forces in old and very old age. This is evidenced in various self-regulation processes, and even in the construction of autobiographical narratives, i.e., how people make stories about particular episodes and experiences in their lives.

Interest in social motivation was originally nurtured by research on social support, defined as those interpersonal transactions that involve aid, affirmation, or affect. Although research has mostly lacked a developmental focus, it now seems clear that aid (i.e., instrumental rather than emotional or appraisal support) is the crucial issue for elderly people and is most predictive of their well-being.

Another social perspective considers elderly people not as needy recipients, but rather as providers of social support. Altruistic behaviors in old age are assumed to foster feelings of competence and self-worth and to provide a sense of meaning to one's life, while at the same time they might serve to distract elderly people from current troubles or to ensure the presence of others. A different perspective, known as social emotional selectivity theory, has as its core proposition that the elderly may have fewer social relationships, but that they compensate by selecting relationships in which they can be meaningfully understood, share intimacy, and express emotions. This means that elderly people are seen to be driven more by emotional motives aimed at self-verification or affect regulation rather than by information-seeking motives (e.g., aimed at getting to know new people or at reducing unfamiliarity in social relationships).

Finally, the need for self-esteem represents a pervasive motivation across the entire life span. Evidence on how people, irrespective of their ages, ward off threats to their self-views (e.g., by defensive responses, selective comparisons, and/ or strategic self-presentation) is compelling. There is nothing special about elderly people in this regard, unless one assumes that their experiences of loss are to be equated with threats to self-esteem. It is not well understood, however, how loss encountered in later life is construed by elderly people: do these losses threaten self-esteem, or are they seen as universal concomitants of the natural course of aging? Under what conditions do loss experiences induce unpleasant feelings of uniqueness and attack feelings of self-worth? Obviously, one pathway to understand affect and motivation in elderly persons is to study their (own) subjective implicit theories of aging.




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