A study with n = 55 younger (18–33 years, M = 23.67) and n = 58 older (61–85 years, M = 71.44) adults investigated age-related differences in social approach and avoidance motivation and their consequences for the experience of social interactions. Results confirmed the hypothesis that a predominant habitual approach motivation in younger adults shifts toward a stronger avoidance motivation in older adults. Moreover, age and momentary motivation predicted the experience of an actual social interaction. Younger adults reported stronger negative emotions in a rejection situation when striving to approach acceptance rather than avoid rejection. Conversely, older adults reported fewer positive emotions in a rejection situation when they attempted to avoid rejection rather than approach acceptance.
Taken together, the present study demonstrates that the same motivation has different consequences for the experience of potentially threatening social situations in younger and older adults. People seem to react emotionally when the achievement of important developmental goals (approaching others in young adulthood, avoiding negative social interactions in older adulthood) is thwarted. Moreover, results suggest that approach and avoidance motivation play an important role for socioemotional development.