Future time perspective in old age - an analysis of goals and emotions

How the character and the intensity of emotions and fears with regard to the future are connected with the amount of short and long term goals. Spearman’s rank correlations for fears and indicators connected with the construction of one’s future.

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Beata Bugajska, Faculty of Pedagogy of the University of Szczecin

UDC 159.9

Future time perspective in old age - an analysis of goals and emotions

Celina Timoszyk-Tomczak

Faculty of Psychology of the University of Szczecin


Purpose of the study. The future time perspective of old people is closely connected with their emotional development in this period of life. The purpose of our research was to examine how the character and the intensity of emotions and fears with regard to the future are connected with the amount and the content of short and long term goals.

Design and Methods. We surveyed 351 people aged 65 years and older by means of an experimental version of a survey form for measuring future time perspective and a modified questionnaire on future time perspective.

Results. The results show, that fears concerning the future are connected with a larger number of, and in terms of content more diversified goals. These goals concern health, material issues and interests. Positive emotions correlate with short-term goals and goals concerning the family.

Implications. Older people with increased fears with regard to the future concentrate more on short-term goals, which are likely to help them solve the issues that worry them or allow them to distance themselves from them. Goals directed at the development of interpersonal relations with family and friends provide the experience of positive emotions.

Keywords: psychology of aging, successful aging, life course

1. Corresponding author


People approach their own personal future in different ways (Nuttin, 1985). These differences result from the widely understood internal and external context, in which the individual functions (Timoszyk-Tomczak and Bugajska, 2012). In older people, the variance in the approach of their own future may be even more pronounced. This is due to their very diverse physical and mental conditions and the varying level of vitality, wisdom and satisfaction, as well as different degrees of their sense of loneliness and material impoverishment (Bee, 2004). This may be influenced also by the approach to time, which may be more limited in view of the more and more frequent awareness of their mortality (Carstensen, Fung and Charles, 2003).

Planning one's future requires, among other things, the activation of many cognitive processes, but at the same time a strong emotional involvement (comp. Nosal and Balcar, 2004, Diaz-Morales, 2006). Therefore the connection between the cognitive and the emotional aspect in relation to the conception of one's own future is inseparable and of essential significance in old age. While the ageing process has a rather negative influence on the cognitive processes and the psychomotor skills, the influence of ageing on the emotional processes is not so obvious (Lench, Safer and Levine, 2011). In old age, we observe, on the one hand, a linear deterioration of the basic cognitive functions and, on the other hand, many adaptation mechanisms, which ensure an effective and satisfying cognitive and emotional performance even long after retirement age (Wieczorek and S<?dek, 2011). A lot of data prove that the image of the emotional changes connected with age is not as clear as it seemed before (Izdebski and Polak, 2008). On the basis of a review of the research on the topic of emotion in relation to ageing, Izdebski and Polak (2008) found that older people most probably experience a less negative affect than younger people. This may be due to a reduced reactivity of the amygdalae to negative information and an unchanged or increasing reactivity to positive information.

Particularly interesting in the context of older people planning their future seems the socioemotional selectivity theory developed by Carstensen and her associates (2003). The basic assumptions of this theory concern the selection of social interactions, the goals older people set themselves, integration, emotion regulation and the experience of emotions. And so, in older people the social network narrows because they resign from peripheral relationships, but at the same time the significance and emotional closeness of family, relatives and closest friends grow. The goals older people set themselves focus on emotion regulation. The integration of the emotional system is well preserved and, with age, the emotional experiences become positive. However, what characterizes old age is not a tendency towards hedonism, but the search for sense and satisfaction with life. This means, that the positive emotions coexist with negative ones, but older people orient themselves more towards positive states. That is probably why older people have better emotion regulation than younger people (Carstensen a.o. 2003).

One explanation is that the notion of future time perspective which is part of the temporal perspective (Nuttin 1984, 1985, Lensa 2006, Zaleski 2002) and is described as a cognitive-dynamic (cognitive-motivational) personality characteristic with two essential motivational aspects. It gradually emerges from motivational goal-setting and influences the intensity with which these goals are pursued (Lens and Moreas 1994, p. 299). The future time perspective includes objects which are in different time relations to each other, but closely connected with the motivation of the subject (Lens, 2006). The objects which make up the future time perspective, i.e. goals, dreams, plans, realization strategies, are all associated with emotions. Among them, the goals are particularly important. Although the term “goal” has different definitions, it can be assumed, that it is a subjective imagination of a result, to which a certain value is assigned and which is accompanied by the activated intention to achieve the relevant result (Lukaszewski, 2008). Goals can differ in terms of the formal degree of difficulty, the time period for which they are set (short- and long-term goals), the degree of generality, finality and many other criteria (Franken, 2002). As for their content, they can concern different categories, such as family, education, health, religion, realization of values (other than health or religious values), pursuit of material, social and living standards, interests etc. (comp. M^drzycki, 2002).

The affective attitude with regard to the future results from the expected positive, neutral or negative character of future events in the life of a person. It is the generalized, individual, emotional look at the personal future of the subject. A positive vision of the future is motivating and - if combined with a high instrumental value of activities - encourages the involvement of the individual (Lens and Moreas, 1994). An affective approach to the future, and also the emotions accompanying the individual goals, can therefore modify the shape and the content of the future time perspective. This seems particularly interesting in the context of the future of older people. From the socioemotional selectivity theory results that older people will, in view of their remaining lifetime, modify their approach to their own future by selecting goals designed to activate emotions and by reducing goals oriented towards the acquisition of new information and contacts. Therefore, they appreciate more what they are currently experiencing (Carstensen a.o. 2003).

The emotional relation to time, or in other words the approach to time, means a more or less permanent positive or negative attitude with regard to time (Nuttim, 1985). The attitude towards time embraces the past, the present and the future and includes both hopes and fears. With regard to the construction of one's own future, the fears concerning the future, which denote a vague dread or apprehensiveness of future events, seem significant (comp. Reber, 2000). These fears can concern the near or distant time perspective and can include more or less personal aspects connected with the future. The fears seem more generalized and permanent than the emotions which appear in the context of goal-setting. The term emotion is difficult to define clearly. Frijda (1986) says that an emotion is usually the result of an event assessed to have an important influence on the goals or interests of the relevant subject. This assessment can be conscious or unconscious, positive or negative. The key element of an emotion is the activation of the readiness to realize the corresponding programme of actions and to give this programme the priority status. An emotion is usually experienced as a specific kind of psychological state, often accompanied (or immediately succeeded) by somatic changes, facial expressions and behavioural reactions. Traditional analyses emphasize three components of the emotional process, the sign of emotion or valence, its intensity and its cause - the object of emotion (Reykowski, 1974).

The emotional attitude to time can be researched in different ways. We were interested in the connection between the emotions of older people and their projection of their own future. The purpose of our research was to analyze the connections between increased fears, the character and intensity of emotions and the future time perspective of older people. Based on a literature review and our own research we developed the following hypotheses:

H1. People who profess increased fears concerning the future have a shorter future time perspective, less plans for realizing long-term goals, concentrate more on current matters, formulate more short-term and less long-term goals and the short-term goals concern a larger - the long-term goals a smaller - number of content categories.

H2. The stronger the fears with regard to the future, the more goals of older people are connected with health and with material, social and living issues, whereas less fears correlate with more goals connected with recreation and the development of interests.

H3. Short term goals coincide positively with positive emotions, distant goals with negative ones.

H4. Goals concerning family, interests and leisure correlate with positive emotions, whereas goals connected with health and one's material situation correlate with negative emotions.

All relations were researched in the entire group, taking into consideration also a division according to gender and age.


The research was carried out with the participation of 351 people, including 119 (34%) men and 232 (66%) women aged 65 and older. The subjects were divided into age subgroups: a group of people aged 65-69 years (referred to in the analyses as the 60-year-olds) with 109 (31%) participants, a second group of 178 (51%) people aged 70 to 79 years (the 70-year-olds) and a third group of people aged 80 years and older (the 80-year-olds) with 64 (18%) members. The participants were selected according to quota sampling, in proportion to age and gender.

The research was carried out by means of:

1. A survey form for measuring one's future - an experimental version by B.Bugajska and C.Timoszyk-Tomczak (2012). The survey is composed of three parts and contains open and closed questions. The first part is a socio-demographic specification with a survey concerning age, gender, education, places of residence, attitude towards religious belief and one's life situation. In this part, the respondents assess their own material situation, their relationship with family and friends as well as their state of health, their physical and intellectual condition. The respondents place their assessment on a 7-point-scale from 1 - “very bad” to 7 - “very good”.

The second part contains questions concerning the assessment of earlier established plans in different areas of one's life (family life, professional activity, development through education, economical plans, journeys, social contacts, fulfilment of values, development of interests, development of personality, leisure). The respondent assesses the degree of fulfilment of earlier set goals on a 7-point- scale from 1 - “I did not succeed at all” to 7 - “I fully succeeded”.

The questions in the third part concern the subjects' own future. The respondents have to make a list of the goals they have set for themselves for different periods of life. Three periods were differentiated: short-term goals for the near future from one week to several months (I), medium-term goals from one year to several years (II) and long-term goals for a period of about ten years (III). The subjects can write down even up to five goals for each of these periods and assess the possibility of realization on an 5-point-scale (from 1 - “I will succeed in realizing this goal” to 5 - “I will not succeed”), as well as the valence of the emotion they feel in connection with a given goal (-- very negative, - negative 0 indifferent, + positive, ++ very positive, the numbers 1 to 5 are assigned to the different answers). The higher the result on the goal realization scale, the greater the success foreseen in the relevant area. The higher the result on the emotion valence scale, the more positive the emotion the subject feels in connection with the realization of the goal.

The goals formulated by the subjects for different periods of their life were classified into eight content categories: family (1), health (2), religion (3), other values (4), material issues (5), leisure (6), interests (7) and social life (8).

2. The questionnaire on future time perspective by W. Lens The questionnaire serves to examine the temporal dimension of future time perspective. It consists of 30 items, on which the subject must take a stance on a 7- point Likert-scale (from 1 - I strongly disagree, to 7 - I strongly agree). It includes three subscales: the concentration on current matters - CCM, the length of time perspective - LTP and the planning of long-term goal realization - PLGR. The CCM-scale examines the degree of concentration on the present. The LTP-subscale measures the degree of interest in the planning of distant aspirations. The PLGR- scale, on the other hand, examines to which extent an individual concentrates on lengthening the odds on achieving a long-term goal, on improving his or her actions and on comparing the actual achievements with the original plans. The basic indicators of diligence are the factor of stability (from 0.21 to 0.70), homogeneity (from -0.40 to 0.78) and internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha CCM - 0.85, LTP - 0.64 and PLGR - 0.25) (Cycon, Zaleski 1998). By means of the questionnaire the respondent assesses every one of 30 statements on a 7-point- scale. These assessments are summed up within the three subscales by means of a key and at the same time, for certain statements, the scale has to be turned over. The result consists of three indicator variables: the level of concentration on current matters, the length of time perspective and the plan for long-term goal realization. A high result in one of the subscales indicates a major intensity of the variable, a low result - a minor one. The research was carried out individually by surveyors specially trained for this purpose.


Fears and future time perspective

fear emotion spearman

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In order to verify the first hypothesis we examined, if fears concerning the future correlate with such aspects of the future time perspective as its length, the planning of long-term goal realization, concentration on current matters, the number of specific short- and long-term goals, the number of content categories covered by the goals. The hypothesis was partially confirmed. The results are presented in figures 1, 2 and 3.

The correlation analyses carried out separately for men and women show that the dependence between fears and the diversity and number of short-term goals applies to men.

Figure 3. Spearman S rank correlations for fears and indicators connected with the construction of one's future for age groups

The analyses conducted according to the age groups show that the correlations between fears and very diverse and numerous short-term goals are characteristic for the 80-year-olds. Fears for the future and goal content categories

The next step was to analyze the correlations between the fears with regard to the future and the content of the goals older persons set for themselves. On the basis of the data we obtained, we can say that the second hypothesis was partially confirmed. The results showed different dependences between fear intensity and the content of short- and long-term goals (figures 4-9).

Figure 4 Spearman S rank correlations between fear intensity and the short-term goal categories for the whole group (N=351)

Older people with more fears with regard to the future set themselves at the same time more short-term goals connected with their health, material situation and interests. Analyses were also carried out separately for the genders.

Figure 5 Spearman's rank correlations between fear intensity and short-term goal categories for the genders

It appeared that women with stronger fears set themselves short-term goals concerning material issues, and that in men fears correlate with short-term goals such as goodness, happiness and aspirations connected with the development of their interests. One may think about to what extent the fears concerning future, which in women correlate with material aspirations, increase or create a feeling of insecurity. As for men the question is, to what extent the short-term goals oriented towards general values and interests are an escape from the anxiety connected with what is to happen in the future. The correlations between fear intensity and the short-term goal categories were examined also separately for the age subgroups.

Figure 6 Spearman's rank correlations between fear intensity and short-term goal categories for the age groups

The age group analysis showed that greater fears with regard to the future for the 60-year-olds correlate with a smaller number of short-term goals connected with leisure, for the 70-year-olds with a larger number of goals concerning the development of interests and for the 80-year-olds with a larger number of aspirations to do with health and religion.

Separate analyses were carried out for long-term goals. Again, the fears concerning the future were correlated with goal content categories. First, the surveys were carried out for the whole group.

Figure 7 Spearman 's rank correlations between fear intensity and long-term goal categories for the whole group (N=351)

Generally, more intense fears with regard to the future have no bearing on the content of the long-term goals. We examined, if there are any connections in the groups of men and women.

Figure 8 Spearman's rank correlations between fear intensity and long-term goal categories for the genders

Connections appeared in the group of the men, where greater fears stand in relation to a larger number of long-term goals oriented towards religion. No essential correlations were observed in the group of the women. We also analyzed the correlations in the age subgroups.

Figure 9 Spearman's rank correlations between fear intensity and long-term goal categories for the age groups

The results showed that only for the 60-year-olds fears concerning the future correlate with long-term goals oriented towards general values such as goodness and happiness.

Emotions and goals

In order to verify the third hypothesis we carried out Wilcoxon's signed-rank test for emotions connected with short-term goals and emotions connected with long-term goals. On the basis of the results we obtained, we can say that the hypothesis was confirmed. The results are presented in table 1.

Table 1 Wilcoxon's signed-rank test for variable pairs: emotions connected with shortterm goals (ESG) and emotions connected with long-term goals (ELG).


^ 1C» ^ FID




All group (N=83)

4.13 3.95

0,73 0,9V



Women (N=51)

4.13 4.03

0,76 0.96



Men (N=32)

4,13 3,81

0.66 1.05



60-ycar-olds (N=35)

4,07 3.97

0,75 1.06



70-year-olds (N 36)

4.18 3.99

0,72 0,91



80- у car-olds (N 12)

4.12 3,75

0.7J 1.10



*p.<0,05; ”p<0.01

This shows that short-term goals are connected with more positive emotions than long-term goals. Older people who set themselves short-term goals, at the same time feel emotions of a positive character, whereas those with long-term aspirations feel emotions that are both weaker in terms of intensity and less distinctive in terms of valence. This dependence appears in the group of the women and in the group of the 60-year-olds.

Emotions and goal content categories

In order to verify the truthfulness of the fourth hypothesis, the subjects were divided into two groups: a group of persons experiencing positive emotions with regard to short- or long-term goals and a group of persons describing their emotions in relation to short- or long-term goals as negative. We then compared the level of the indicators for the goal categories (family, health, religion, other general values such as goodness and happiness, material aspects, leisure, interests, social life) by means of the Mann-Whitney U test (the test was chosen in view of the different numerical strength of the groups).

Table 2 U Mann-Whitney test: comparison of the indicators connected with the goal content categories in the groups of people describing their emotions as positive or negative.

Categories of the goals

Sum of the ranks Negative emotions

Sum of the ranks Positive emotions






All group - the negative short-term goals N=17, positive N=254









other values








Women - the negative short-term goals N=12. positive N=168









other values








material aspects








Men - the negative long-term goals N=10, positise N=43









The analyses for the whole group revealed that people who assess their emotions in connection with short-term goals as positive, set themselves more family-oriented goals and less goals oriented towards general values such as goodness, happiness etc. There were no essential differences in the emotions connected with distant goals.

The comparison of the indicators connected with the goal content categories in the groups of people describing their emotions as positive or negative depending on their gender showed that there are differences between women and men. And so, women who feel positive emotions in relation to goals for the near future set themselves more family-oriented goals and fewer goals to do with general values and material issues. In the women's group there was no difference concerning the emotions accompanying long-term goals. In the men's group there were no important differences concerning the short-term goals. However, men who assess their emotions with regard to long-term goals as positive, developed more goals connected with the family.

In the age subgroups, the number of people describing their emotions as distinctly negative or positive was so diverse and small, that reliable comparisons were impossible.

To sum up, fears connected with the future correlate above all with short-term goals, i.e. older people who have stronger fears with regard to the future develop a larger number and more diverse short-term goals. More intense fears go along with goal content categories such as health, the material situation and, what seems interesting, with goals oriented towards the development of interests. Short-term goals are accompanied by more positive emotions than long-term goals. The positive emotions appearing in connection with short-term goals concern mostly family-oriented goals.

Summary and conclusions

The research results can be interpreted for example in the context of the socioemotional selectivity theory (Carstensen a.o. 2003) and also of the theory of the dynamic integration of emotion and cognition (Labouvie-Vief, Gruhn and Muras, 2009). Changes in the experience of emotion in old age are an important field of research. New data show that the sense of well-being improves from early adulthood to old age. This is due to the fact that ageing is generally connected with a more positive frame of mind, more emotional stability and a greater complexity of emotional experience, in other words a more frequent coincidence of positive and negative emotions (Carstensen a.o. 2011). Research shows that the frequency of the negative affect diminishes and that the positive affect is more stable (Charles, Reynolds and Gaz, 2001).

But not all research works on the period of late adulthood register an increase in the experience of positive emotions. Some results indicate a decrease of positive and an increase of negative emotions in the fourth quarter of life (Pinquart, 2001). This is most probably connected with the life context of the individual and this in a broad cultural sense. This is confirmed by research which shows that older adults in the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe display a stronger age- connected decrease of positive and increase of negative affect. In Polish research, this was confirmed by Jasielska and Szczygiel (2007) who proved that older people more often than young people prefer an extra-hedonist tendency in emotion regulation. This tendency means that older people more often engage in increasing or even triggering negative emotions and the reduction or else suppression of positive emotions.

Jasielska's research (2011) also shows that in people aged 60-85 years negative affect dominates as the consequence of the readiness - which grows with age - to lower the mood and of the - age-independent - negative anticipative regulation, a phenomenon which is stronger in men. This is indirectly referred to in our research, which shows that older people with increased fears concerning the future set themselves at the same time more and more diverse short-term goals. This result applies to the whole group of subjects, the men's group and in the age subgroups only to the oldest people aged 80 years and older. Of course, the data obtained from the correlations do not indicate a direction. They do however prove the coincidence of stronger fears and a shorter, more elaborate time perspective. This means that fears with regard to the future correlate with more diverse short-term goals, which may ensure a better predictability of what is to happen in the future and the control over it. The socioemotional selectivity theory (Fung and Carstensen, 2003) may help to explain this dependence, which leads to the conclusion, that when the fears concerning the future are for people less important, not only the actual sense of well-being grows, but also the value older people attach to life itself, as well as long-term relationships with family and friends. The selection of interpersonal relations contributes to the optimization of emotional experience, if the individual has the necessary resources and lives in a favourable social context (Carstensen a.o. 2003). One can therefore conclude that increased fears cause a worse sense of well-being and a change concerning the motivation in the development of goals, for example in form of the shortening of their perspective and the modification of their contents. Older people will then not concentrate so much on emotionally significant goals but rather on such goals which are directly related to what might bring real help or some form of oblivion.

This is confirmed by our results concerning the correlations between stronger fears and the contents of short- and long-term goals. They lead to the conclusion, that older people with many fears with regard to the future at the same time set themselves for the near future goals connected with health, material issues and interests. While women more often set themselves material goals, men are oriented more towards general values such as goodness, happiness and interests. As for the age groups, in the group of the 60-year-olds stronger fears go along with a smaller number of goals to do with leisure, in the group of the 70-year-olds more pronounced fears correlate with goals oriented towards the development of interests and in the group of 80-year-olds with goals concerning health and religious values. There are less correlations between fears and long-term goals. Positive correlations appear only between stronger fears and a larger amount of long-term goals connected with religion in the men's group as well as between stronger fears and a smaller number of distant goals to do with general values such as goodness and happiness. Increased fears are therefore not connected with the emotionally most significant goals, i.e. goals oriented towards interpersonal relationships and this may be one of the reasons for greater fears with regard to the future. One cannot ignore the fact, though, that the actual situation in which a person lives will be connected with an increase or decrease of fears. The loss of health, chronic illnesses or financial difficulties can increase the anxiety with regard to the nearest future and the development of relevant goals, such as “take medications regularly”, “rehabilitation” or “find temporary work”. Goals oriented towards the development of interest, however, may be a way of dealing with the fears for the future by escaping or forgetting.

Some authors claim that ageing is connected with an increase in the area of emotional development due to a general improvement of emotion regulation. Others quote data, which indicate that the processing of affective information is threatened due to the fact that the cognitive functions are in many cases already disturbed. The theory of the dynamic integration of emotion and cognition is an attempt to connect these two approaches. In this concept, the emotional integration of patterns is based on the interaction between stable individual possibilities (e.g. personal cognitive and socioemotional resources) as well as dynamic limitations resulting from context factors (e.g. emotional and cognitive activation). Therefore, from mid-adulthood to old age the balance of the emotion regulation processes is threatened. Modifying influences here are the changing external and internal resources of older people. As a result, the development of the emotional balance in late adulthood is a picture of profit and loss (Labouvie-Vief a.o. 2009). The theory quoted here may be particularly significant in the research of the affective attitude of people towards their own goals. This requires not only a glance into the future but also an assessment of one's own feelings, which may be difficult in view of the high level of abstraction. In addition, the process of planning one's own future is rooted in the concrete, personal context of life of each human being.

As our research shows, older people feel more intense, positive emotions in connection with short-term goals. This tendency is not in accordance with the general regularity, which says that it is the long-term goals which channel and support our activity, strengthen our perseverance, are associated with stronger emotions and the pursuit of which provides more satisfaction (Franken, 2005). Our result is probably connected with the naturally shortening remaining lifetime, the reduced cognitive abilities, varying conditions of life, individual differences and the changes in the emotional sphere of older people. One may consider this as the result of the profits and losses connected with the ageing process. On the one hand, the future time perspective shortens, on the other hand, the present and the near future become more significant. By attaching more importance to emotionally significant goals in a shortening lifetime (Fung and Carstensen, 2003), older people select their interaction partners and thereby protect their emotional resources, in the face of limited possibilities in the future (Fredrickson and Carstensen, 1990). This is confirmed by the further results of our research, which show that positive emotions are above all connected with family-oriented goals. For the women this applies to short-term goals and for the men to long-term goals. As a result, the positive emotional attitude towards one's own plans assimilates with satisfaction and internal development. This, in turn, engenders a more positive perception of oneself. And optimistic assessments of oneself, in relation to the changes which occur with age, encourage the construction of a positive identity of the older person and a greater personal satisfaction. This is associated with the concentration on those experiences which, in old age, are still possible, and not on those, in which one can no longer participate (Hill and Mansour, 2008).


Stronger fears with regard to the future correlate with a greater number and - in terms of content - more diverse short-term goals. At the same time, these goals concern above all health, material situation and interests. This probably results from the actual living conditions of older people and their personal resources.

Short-term goals are accompanied by more positive emotions than long-term goals. Positive emotions are associated with family-oriented goals. This result is in accordance with the socioemotional selectivity theory.


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