Emotion-health connection not limited to wealthy nations

(Medical Xpress)—Positive emotions are known to play a role in physical well-being, and stress is strongly linked to poor health, but is this strictly a "First World" phenomenon? In developing nations, is the fulfillment of basic needs more critical to health than how one feels? A UC Irvine researcher has found that emotions do affect health around the world and may, in fact, be more important to wellness in low-income countries.

The study, which appears online in , is the first to examine the emotion-health connection in a of 150,000 people in 142 countries. Previous research on the topic has been limited to industrialized nations.

"We wondered whether the fact that emotions make a difference in our health is simply because we have the luxury of letting them," said Sarah Pressman, assistant professor of & social behavior and the study's lead author. "We wanted to assess the impact of emotions on health in places where people face famine, homelessness and serious safety concerns that might be more critical correlates of wellness."

Against expectations, researchers found that the link between positive emotions (enjoyment, love, happiness) and health is stronger in countries with a weaker gross domestic product. In fact, the association increased as GDP decreased, according to Pressman.

People in Malawi, which has a per capita GDP of $900, show a more robust connection between positive emotions and health than residents of the U.S., which has a per capita GDP of $49,800.

"A hostile American with hypertension can take blood pressure-lowering medication. A Malawian cannot," Pressman said. "Medical interventions might lower the impact of emotions on health."

Using data from the Gallup World Poll, researchers noted whether participants had reported experiencing enjoyment, love, happiness, worry, sadness, stress, boredom, depression or anger during the previous day. They also measured physical health and the degree to which subjects' basic needs were met. Security was assessed by asking if participants felt safe walking alone at night or whether they had been robbed, assaulted or mugged.

"We hope that by showing that this phenomenon is prevalent and stronger than some factors considered critical to wellness, more attention will be drawn to the importance of studying both positive and negative emotions," Pressman said.

She co-authored the study with Shane Lopez of the Gallup Organization and Matthew Gallagher of Boston University.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Daily stress plummets after age 50

May 18, 2010

After age 50, daily stress and worry take a dive and happiness increases, according to an analysis of more than 340,000 adults questioned about the emotions they experienced "yesterday."

Recommended for you

Mothers don't speak so clearly to their babies

Jan 23, 2015

People have a distinctive way of talking to babies and small children: We speak more slowly, using a sing-song voice, and tend to use cutesy words like "tummy". While we might be inclined to think that we ...

Explainer: What is sexual fluidity?

Jan 23, 2015

Sexual preferences are not set in stone and can change over time, often depending on the immediate situation the individual is in. This has been described as sexual fluidity. For example, if someone identifies as heterosexual but th ...

Lucky charms: When are superstitions used most?

Jan 23, 2015

It might be a lucky pair of socks, or a piece of jewelry; whatever the item, many people turn to a superstition or lucky charm to help achieve a goal. For instance, you used a specific avatar to win a game and now you see ...

Low-income boys fare worse in wealth's shadow

Jan 22, 2015

Low-income boys fare worse, not better, when they grow up alongside more affluent neighbors, according to new findings from Duke University. In fact, the greater the economic gap between the boys and their neighbors, the ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.