Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

Clinical Psychology, PhD

Committee Chair

Meeks, Suzanne

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Mast, Benjamin

Committee Member

Mast, Benjamin

Committee Member

Lewine, Richard

Committee Member

Stetson, Barbara

Committee Member

Moon, Heehyul

Author's Keywords

Well-being; age-related differences; activity familiarity


Background and Objectives: This study explored age-related differences in the relationship between activity novelty/familiarity and well-being, conceptualized within theories including Selection, Optimization, and Compensation (SOC), Self-Determination Theory (SDT), and Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (SST). For all ages, participation in activities has been shown to enhance well-being. Known mediators of this relationship include psychological, physical, and psychosocial benefits. It is less clear what types of experiences are optimal across the lifespan. Research Design and Methods: A online cross-sectional, correlational study (N= 200) was conducted. Measures included demographic data, ratings of three self-identified recent activities, three activity choices of familiar or novel activity options, measures of well-being, and control variables including measures of overall activity level, physical health, personality traits, and COVID-19 stress. Results: An 8-item familiarity scale was developed and validated. Chronological age was not correlated with familiar activity choice. However, age was significantly positively correlated with mean ratings of activity familiarity. Age did not moderate the relationship between the familiarity of activity and eudaimonic well-being as hypothesized. Overall activity level had a significant direct effect on hedonic well-being and hedonic well-being had a significant direct effect on eudaimonic well-being, but there was no direct effect of overall activity level on eudaimonic well-being. Ratings of activity familiarity were significantly positively related to ratings of activity automaticity, and mean familiarity ratings across three self-identified activities were significantly negatively related to extraversion. Controlling for negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic using the COVID Stress Scales did not improve model fit for any of the analyses. Discussion and Implications: This study highlights the complexity of research on activity participation and preferences, and the need for use of techniques such as ecological momentary assessment, qualitative research, and longitudinal studies to better capture complex constructs such as activity familiarity and participation. Future research on age-related differences in the relationship between activity familiarity and well-being may contribute to a lifespan theory of activity benefits and will be useful in personalizing interventions that increase well-being, such as weighting selection of activities in behavioral activation treatments or designing activity programs for older adults.