Influence of HIV Status and Age on Cognitive Representations of Others

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In 2 studies the postulate that the perception of time left in life influences the ways that people conceptualize social relationships was explored. It was hypothesized that when time is limited, emotional aspects of relationships are highly salient. In Study 1, a card-sort paradigm involving similarity judgments demonstrated, for a sample of persons 18 to 88 years old, that the prominence of affect in the mental representations of prospective social partners is positively associated with age. In Study 2, the same experimental approach was applied to a sample of young gay men similar to one another in age, but notably different in their health status (that is, HIV negative; HIV positive, asymptomatic; and HIV positive, symptomatic). It was found that, with age held constant, increasing closeness to the end of life is also associated with an increasing prominence of affect in the mental representations of social partners. The results suggest that the perception of limited time, rather than chronological age, is the critical variable influencing mental representations of social partners.

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