Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Refining Research on Older Adults' Leisure: Implications of Selection, Optimization, and Compensation and Socioemotional Selectivity Theories

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Refining Research on Older Adults' Leisure: Implications of Selection, Optimization, and Compensation and Socioemotional Selectivity Theories

Article excerpt

Introduction

Continuity theory and, to a lesser degree, activity theory are widely used to explain and predict leisure activities and social patterns of older adults. These theories, however, have limitations which hinder their ability to predict behavior accurately. Two theories based on Lifespan Development Psychology, selection, optimization, and compensation (SOC) and socioemotional selectivity, are increasingly used in gerontology, human development, and psychology to study older adults' behavior (Bakes, 2003; Bakes & Carstensen, 1999; Lawton & Schaie 1991; Schaie & Willis, 2002) and appear to provide guidance for refining leisure research. Both theories predict successful aging when the investment of resources (e.g. time or energy) is maintained or altered in desirable ways. SOC theory predicts that people who age successfully employ three basic strategies: (1) selection, (2) optimization, and (3) compensation. Selection refers to identifying and reprioritizing goals, optimization refers to maximizing performance, and compensation refers to adapting to current or anticipated limitations. Socioemotional selectivity theory predicts that, as perceived time left diminishes, people discard peripheral relationships and focus on important ones, such as those with close family members and friends. Despite an overall decline in the number of relationships, this process appears to be positively related to affective well-being in older adults and may even promote it by enabling them to focus their limited time and energy on relationships that are most beneficial while avoiding those that are inconsequential or detrimental. A growing body of research exists to support SOC and socioemotional selectivity theories and they appear to be broadly generalizable. While they have been used to study leisure behavior in only a few instances, the theories appear to be relevant. In particular, SOC and socioemotional selectivity may be used in conjunction with or in place of continuity and activity theories. Doing so will require leisure researchers to consider the mechanisms that older adults use to adapt to changes in later life and their sources of social support.

Current Theories

Continuity theory is commonly used in the study of older adults' leisure behavior (Godbey, 1999; Mannell & Kleiber, 1997). It stipulates that age related changes threaten inner psychological well-being and outward social behavior (Atchley, 1989). The theory predicts that older adults who use familiar strategies to adapt to changes associated with aging can preserve inner and outward states and, ultimately, well-being. Continuity is thought to exist in three realms: (1) the maintenance of inner psychological states, (2) the maintenance of outward social behavior, and (3) the methods people use to negotiate change. General hypotheses based on continuity theory are,

1. Older adults who maintain inner psychological states have higher rates of well-being.

2. Older adults who maintain outward behavior have higher rates of well-being.

3. Older adults who use familiar strategies to adapt to changes have higher rates of well-being.

Leisure researchers who use continuity theory measure variables pertaining to inner psychological states, outward behavior, and adaptation strategies and predict a positive relationship between continuity in these variables and well-being. Of these, predicting outward leisure behavior, such as rates of activity participation or social interaction, is of particular interest.

While continuity theory is often use to study older adults' leisure, its usefulness in explaining and predicting older adults' behavior is limited (Madras, 1990). The theory only applies to people who experience "normal aging", not "pathological aging" (Atchley, 1989, p. 183). People aging normally are described as "independent adults with persistent self-concepts and identities. They can successfully meet their needs for income, housing, health care, nutrition, clothing, transportation, and recreation" (p. …

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