Perceptions of time and partner preference across adulthood: examining socio-emotional selectivity theory in physical activity
Compton, Scott Geoffrey
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One psychological construct that can be used to explain why people have difficulty maintaining a physically active lifestyle is time perspective (Hall & Fong, 2003). Perceptions of time have important implications for emotion, cognition, and motivation (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999). The Socio-Emotional Selectivity Theory (SEST) is a life span theory of social motivation in which perceptions of time are linked to the selection and pursuit of social goals and the subsequent preferences for social partners. There is a lack of research that examines the SEST in other contexts and the physical activity setting provides a unique setting because of the health benefits it provides. Thus, the purpose of this research was to investigate the relationship between individual perceptions of time and partner preference across adulthood, and more specifically, to test the predictions of the Socio-Emotional Selectivity Theory (SEST) in physical activity. The sample consisted of 95 participants between the ages of 19 and 93 (M age = 51.5, SD = 20.2). Each participant completed a questionnaire package that contained a demographics section (age, gender, household income, etc.), ratings of physical and mental health, physical activity measures (Godin Leisure-Time Exercise Questionnaire, Seven-Day Physical Activity Recall, Physical Activity Rating), Future Time Perspective Scale (FTP; Carstensen & Lang, 1995), Time Perspective Questionnaire (TPQ; Fong & Hall, 2003 ), and a preferred context of exercise question. In addition, each participant completed card-sorting tasks designed to identify whom each participant would prefer to be physically active with if given the choice and to identify whom each participant was currently physically active with. Using the FTP, bivariate correlations showed a significant negative relationship between age and perceptions of time (r = -.87, p < 0.05), a significant positive relationship between physical activity and time perspective (r = .64, p < 0.05), and between age and physical activity (r = -.46, p < 0.05). When examining the relationship between perceptions of time and partner preference, partial support for the SEST was shown. There were three knowledgeable (e.g., "An interesting stranger") and two formal partners (e.g., "A personal trainer") that were preferred by people with an expansive perception of time, which showed support for the SEST. However, one knowledgeable partner ("A clergy person") and one formal partner ("A medical doctor") were preferred by those with a limited perception of time, which contradicts the SEST. Also, in contrast, the family/relative partners were expected to be preferred by those with a limited perception of time; however, results showed that these partners were preferred by all regardless of age. Also, three friend/acquaintance partners were preferred by people with an expansive perception of time, which contradicts the SEST. Finally, the controversial partners revealed no significant result, which does not lend support to the SEST. This study also had the opportunity to examine actual physical activity partners. Results revealed a relationship between perceptions of time and actual physical activity partners for 5 out of the 18 partner cards. When examining the relationships between the preferred physical activity partners and the actual partners, 7 out of 18 partners showed a significant relationship. In addition, a significant relationship was found between the two time perspective scales (r =.51, p < 0.01). In conclusion, time perspective seems to be an important factor to consider in predicting partner preference in physical activity.