LEARNING OBJECTIVES

• How do goals influence the way we process information, and how does this change with age?

• How do emotions influence the way we process information, and how does this change

with age?

• How does a need for closure influence the way we process information, and how does it change with age?

T

racy and Eric are visiting their children and all their grandchildren on Cape Cod. They all are having a good time until their son, Eddie, brings up the hot topic of the upcoming presidential election. The debate between family members as to whom they should vote for becomes heated. Tracy and Eric are very concerned about the negative feelings generated in the debate and try to encourage every­one to change the topic. However, the brothers and sisters are more interested in settling the issue now.

Tracy and Eric cannot handle the negative energy and retire to bed early.

Why did Tracy and Eric focus on the emotional side of the problem (the increase in negative feel­ings), whereas the siblings focused on the more instrumental side of the problem (e. g., whom to vote for)? The different foci of Tracy and Eric in contrast to the children resulted in very different problem-solving strategies. Much like the research on social rules and social judgments, there is a growing area of research that suggests that change in the relative importance of social goals and moti­vation across the life span profoundly influences how we interpret and use social information or direct attention and effort to certain aspects of the problem situation (Hess, 2006). The idea is that goals change with age as a function of experience and time left in the life span. This can influence the degree to which we observe age differences in social cognitive functioning, such as the desire to focus on preserving ones’ resources or eliminating negative affect in problem situations. Let’s explore these further.