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Optimistic Positivity and Pessimistic Negativity Among American Adults: Effects of Birth-Cohort, Age, Gender, and Race

Sat, August 12, 8:30 to 10:10am, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 514B


Regulatory focus theory posits that people tend to perceive their future through lenses of progress and protection. Socioemotional selectivity theory suggests that those lenses change with age. The gender, race and birth-cohort distribution of opportunities and threats that are perceived through those lenses, and resources that shape perceptions and expectations, are specified in structural theories of inequality. These theories, integrated within life span and life course perspectives, suggest that attitudes towards one’s future (i.e. prospective attitudes) should be age-graded in ways that vary by birth-cohort, gender and race. The distributions of two prospective attitudes that encompass perceptions – optimistic positivity and pessimistic negativity – are investigated here. The attitudes are assessed directly, and indirectly (though “wording effects”), over 25 years. Results are consistent with the idea that historical and age-graded trends in opportunities, threats, expectations, and perceptions differ among Black versus White Americans, and for women versus men.