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Considerable evidence exists to support an association between psychological states and immune function. However, the mechanisms by which such states are instantiated in the brain and influence the immune system are poorly understood. The present study investigated relations among physiological measures of affective style, psychological well being, and immune function. Negative and positive affect were elicited by using an autobiographical writing task. Electroencephalography and affect-modulated eye-blink startle were used to measure trait and state negative affect. Participants were vaccinated for influenza, and antibody titers after the vaccine were assayed to provide an in vivo measure of immune function. Higher levels of right-prefrontal electroencephalographic activation and greater magnitude of the startle reflex reliably predicted poorer immune response. These data support the hypothesis that individuals characterized by a more negative affective style mount a weaker immune response and therefore may be at greater risk for illness than those with a more positive affective style.
Greater levels of conscientiousness have been associated with lower levels of negative affect. We focus on one mechanism through which conscientiousness may decrease negative affect: effective emotion regulation, as reflected by greater recovery from negative stimuli. In 273 adults who were 35-85 years old, we collected self-report measures of personality including conscientiousness and its self-control facet, followed on average 2 years later by psychophysiological measures of emotional reactivity and recovery. Among middle-aged adults (35-65 years old), the measures of conscientiousness and self-control predicted greater recovery from, but not reactivity to, negative emotional stimuli. The effect of conscientiousness and self-control on recovery was not driven by other personality variables or by greater task adherence on the part of high conscientiousness individuals. In addition, the effect was specific to negative emotional stimuli and did not hold for neutral or positive emotional stimuli.
Despite the vast literature that has implicated asymmetric activation of the prefrontal cortex in approach-withdrawal motivation and emotion, no published reports have directly explored the neural correlates of well-being. Eighty-four right-handed adults (ages 57-60) completed self-report measures of eudaimonic well-being, hedonic well-being, and positive affect prior to resting electroencephalography. As hypothesized, greater left than right superior frontal activation was associated with higher levels of both forms of well-being. Hemisphere-specific analyses documented the importance of goal-directed approach tendencies beyond those captured by approach-related positive affect for eudaimonic but not for hedonic well-being. Appropriately engaging sources of appetitive motivation, characteristic of higher left than right baseline levels of prefrontal activation, may encourage the experience of well-being.
Marital stress is associated with a higher incidence of psychiatric disorders, in particular major depression. One pathway through which marital stress may impact emotional health is by compromising emotion-responding processes. We examined a longitudinal sample of adults (N = 116; 59 males; 39-84 years) to verify how marital stress predicts reactivity to, and recovery from, emotional provocation. Individuals watched positive, neutral, and negative pictures while an objective measure of affective state, corrugator supercilii muscle activity, was recorded continuously. Our results indicate that marital stress is associated with short-lived responses to positive pictures, indexed by a less persistent decrease in corrugator activity after picture offset. Extending beyond the prior focus on negative emotional processes, these results suggest that social stress may impact health by influencing the time course of responding to positive events.
BACKGROUND: Increasingly, researchers attend to both positive and negative aspects of mental health. Such distinctions call for clarification of whether psychological well-being and ill-being comprise opposite ends of a bipolar continuum, or are best construed as separate, independent dimensions of mental health. Biology can help resolve this query--bipolarity predicts 'mirrored' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being correlate similarly with biomarkers, but show opposite directional signs), whereas independence predicts 'distinct' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being have different biological signatures). METHODS: Multiple aspects of psychological well-being (eudaimonic, hedonic) and ill-being (depression, anxiety, anger) were assessed in a sample of aging women (n = 135, mean age = 74) on whom diverse neuroendocrine (salivary cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA-S) and cardiovascular factors (weight, waist-hip ratio, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total/HDL cholesterol, glycosylated hemoglobin) were also measured. RESULTS: Measures of psychological well-being and ill-being were significantly linked with numerous biomarkers, with some associations being more strongly evident for respondents aged 75+. Outcomes for seven biomarkers supported the distinct hypothesis, while findings for only two biomarkers supported the mirrored hypothesis. CONCLUSION: This research adds to the growing literature on how psychological well-being and mental maladjustment are instantiated in biology. Population-based inquiries and challenge studies constitute important future directions.
Purpose in life predicts both health and longevity suggesting that the ability to find meaning from life’s experiences, especially when confronting life’s challenges, may be a mechanism underlying resilience. Having purpose in life may motivate reframing stressful situations to deal with them more productively, thereby facilitating recovery from stress and trauma. In turn, enhanced ability to recover from negative events may allow a person to achieve or maintain a feeling of greater purpose in life over time. In a large sample of adults (aged 36-84 years) from the MIDUS study (Midlife in the U.S., http://www.midus.wisc.edu/), we tested whether purpose in life was associated with better emotional recovery following exposure to negative picture stimuli indexed by the magnitude of the eyeblink startle reflex (EBR), a measure sensitive to emotional state. We differentiated between initial emotional reactivity (during stimulus presentation) and emotional recovery (occurring after stimulus offset). Greater purpose in life, assessed over two years prior, predicted better recovery from negative stimuli indexed by a smaller eyeblink after negative pictures offset, even after controlling for initial reactivity to the stimuli during the picture presentation, gender, age, trait affect, and other well-being dimensions. These data suggest a proximal mechanism by which purpose in life may afford protection from negative events and confer resilience is through enhanced automatic emotion regulation after negative emotional provocation.
This study examined the interplay of social engagement, sleep quality, and plasma levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) in a sample of aging women (n = 74, aged 61-90, M age = 73.4). Social engagement was assessed by questionnaire, sleep was assessed by using the NightCap in-home sleep monitoring system and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, and blood samples were obtained for analysis of plasma levels of IL-6. Regarding subjective assessment, poorer sleep (higher scores on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index) was associated with lower positive social relations scores. Multivariate regression analyses showed that lower levels of plasma IL-6 were predicted by greater sleep efficiency (P < 0.001), measured objectively and by more positive social relations (P < 0.05). A significant interaction showed that women with the highest IL-6 levels were those with both poor sleep efficiency and poor social relations (P < 0.05). However, those with low sleep efficiency but compensating good relationships as well as women with poor relationships but compensating high sleep efficiency had IL-6 levels comparable to those with the protective influences of both good social ties and good sleep.
OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that socioeconomic status (SES) would be associated with sleep quality measured objectively, even after controlling for related covariates (health status, psychosocial characteristics). Epidemiological studies linking SES and sleep quality have traditionally relied on self-reported assessments of sleep. METHODS: Ninety-four women, 61 to 90 years of age, participated in this study. SES was determined by pretax household income and years of education. Objective and subjective assessments of sleep quality were obtained using the NightCap sleep system and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), respectively. Health status was determined by subjective health ratings and objective measures of recent and chronic illnesses. Depressive symptoms and neuroticism were quantified using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and the Neuroticism subscale of the NEO Personality Inventory, respectively. RESULTS: Household income significantly predicted sleep latency and sleep efficiency even after adjusting for demographic factors, health status, and psychosocial characteristics. Income also predicted PSQI scores, although this association was significantly attenuated by inclusion of neuroticism in multivariate analyses. Education predicted both sleep latency and sleep efficiency, but the latter association was partially reduced after health status and psychosocial measures were included in analyses. Education predicted PSQI sleep efficiency component scores, but not global scores. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that SES is robustly linked to both subjective and objective sleep quality, and that health status and psychosocial characteristics partially explain these associations.
Eudaimonic well-being—a sense of purpose, meaning, and engagement with life—is protective against psychopathology and predicts physical health, including lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Although it has been suggested that the ability to engage the neural circuitry of reward may promote well-being and mediate the relationship between well-being and health, this hypothesis has remained untested. To test this hypothesis, we had participants view positive, neutral, and negative images while fMRI data were collected. Individuals with sustained activity in the striatum and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to positive stimuli over the course of the scan session reported greater well-being and had lower cortisol output. This suggests that sustained engagement of reward circuitry in response to positive events underlies well-being and adaptive regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.