Socioemotional selectivity theory is the theory that, as an individual ages, he becomes more selective about how he spends resources such as time and money. Instead of trying to broadly spend life in pursuit of varied experiences or simple pleasures, he uses his resources on activities and items that have more emotional importance. This theory is largely based on what motivates different individuals at different ages. Socioemotional selectivity theory makes substantial claims about changes in social life, spending habits, memory, and goals across different age groups. Another element of socioemotional selectivity is a bias toward the positive — individuals without a concept of possessing only a limited amount of remaining time are more likely to embrace negative experiences in exchange for possible future gains, for instance.
The degree of selectivity that individuals express tends to vary based on their perspectives regarding time. When one consciously or unconsciously perceives time as unlimited, as is common during youth, he is likely to be less selective with his time. An individual who sees time as very limited, on the other hand, will likely be much more selective with his time. In socioemotional selectivity theory, older individuals are likely to be more selective because, for them, there is a greater immediacy to the issue of mortality.
One of the major aspects of socioemotional selectivity theory is how individuals with different perspectives of time behave socially. People who perceive time as relatively unlimited are more likely to want to meet new people and to attempt to build new friendships and relationships in spite of the emotional risks. By meeting new people and working on weak relationships, one exposes one's self to the risk that the relationship will not be emotionally satisfying and may even be harmful. People who perceive time as limited, on the other hand, are more likely to spend their time focusing on relationships that they consistently find to be pleasant and emotionally fulfilling. This is representative of the theory's concept of a bias toward the positive.
Many different factors can influence one's perception of time. One of the biggest factors is age, as growing older lends an air of immediacy to the issue of mortality. Illnesses, particularly life threatening ones, can also cause one to become more selective about experiences, according to socioemotional selectivity theory. Emotionally tumultuous experiences, such as divorce or the death of a family member, can have a similar effect.