Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Social connections drive the 'upward spiral' of positive emotions and health

Date:
May 9, 2013
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
People who experience warmer, more upbeat emotions may have better physical health because they make more social connections, according to a new study.

People who experience warmer, more upbeat emotions may have better physical health because they make more social connections.
Credit: Kurhan / Fotolia

People who experience warmer, more upbeat emotions may have better physical health because they make more social connections, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research, led by Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Bethany Kok of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences also found it is possible for a person to self-generate positive emotions in ways that make him or her physically healthier.

"People tend to liken their emotions to the weather, viewing them as uncontrollable," says Fredrickson. "This research shows not only that our emotions are controllable, but also that we can take the reins of our daily emotions and steer ourselves toward better physical health."

To study the bodily effects of up-regulating positive emotions, the researchers zeroed in on vagal tone, an indicator of how a person's vagus nerve is functioning. The vagus nerve helps regulate heart rate and is also a central component of a person's social-engagement system.

Because people who have higher vagal tone tend to be better at regulating their emotions, the researchers speculated that having higher vagal tone might lead people to experience more positive emotions, which would then boost perceived positive social connections. Having more social connections would in turn increase vagal tone, thereby improving physical health and creating an "upward spiral."

To see whether people might be able to harness this upward spiral to steer themselves toward better health, Kok, Fredrickson, and their colleagues conducted a longitudinal field experiment.

Half of the study participants were randomly assigned to attend a 6-week loving-kindness meditation (LKM) course in which they learned how to cultivate positive feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill toward themselves and others. They were asked to practice meditation at home, but how often they meditated was up to them. The other half of the participants remained on a waiting list for the course.

Each day, for 61 consecutive days, participants in both groups reported their "meditation, prayer, or solo spiritual activity," their emotional experiences, and their social interactions within the last day. Their vagal tone was assessed twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of the study.

The data provided clear evidence to support the hypothesized upward spiral, with perceived social connections serving as the link between positive emotions and health.

Participants in the LKM group who entered the study with higher vagal tone showed steeper increases in positive emotions over the course of the study. As participants' positive emotions increased, so did their reported social connections. And, as social connections increased, so did vagal tone. In contrast, participants in the wait-list group showed virtually no change in vagal tone over the course of the study.

"The daily moments of connection that people feel with others emerge as the tiny engines that drive the upward spiral between positivity and health," Fredrickson explains.

These findings add another piece to the physical health puzzle, suggesting that positive emotions may be an essential psychological nutrient that builds health, just like getting enough exercise and eating leafy greens.

"Given that costly chronic diseases limit people's lives and overburden healthcare systems worldwide, this is a message that applies to nearly everyone, citizens, educators, health care providers, and policy-makers alike," Fredrickson observes.

This work was supported National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH59615.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. B. E. Kok, K. A. Coffey, M. A. Cohn, L. I. Catalino, T. Vacharkulksemsuk, S. B. Algoe, M. Brantley, B. L. Fredrickson. How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612470827

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Social connections drive the 'upward spiral' of positive emotions and health." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130509123537.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2013, May 9). Social connections drive the 'upward spiral' of positive emotions and health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130509123537.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Social connections drive the 'upward spiral' of positive emotions and health." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130509123537.htm (accessed August 23, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, elderly people might have trouble sleeping because of the loss of a certain group of neurons in the brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) A new study found couples who had at least 150 guests at their weddings were more likely to report being happy in their marriages. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

AP (Aug. 19, 2014) Four Texas high school football programs are trying out an experimental system designed to diagnose concussions on the field. The technology is in response to growing concern over head trauma in America's most watched sport. (Aug. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins