The interaction between stress and positive affect in predicting mortality

Judy Okely, Alexander Weiss, Catharine Gale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objective: Positive affect is associated with longevity; according to the stress-buffering hypothesis, this is because positive affect reduces the health harming effects of psychological stress. If this mechanism plays a role, then the association between positive affect and mortality risk should be most apparent among individuals who report higher stress. Here, we test this hypothesis. Methods: The sample consisted of 8,542 participants aged 32-86 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I) Epidemiological Follow-up Study (NHEFS). We used Cox’s proportional hazards regression to test for the main effects of and the interaction between positive affect and perceived stress in predicting mortality risk over a 10 year follow up period. Results: Greater positive affect was associated with lower mortality risk. We found a significant interaction between positive affect and perceived stress such that the association between positive affect and mortality risk was stronger in people reporting higher stress. In the fully adjusted model, a standard deviation increase in positive affect was associated with a 16% (HR = 0.84; 95% CI = 0.75, 0.95) reduction in mortality risk among participants who reported high levels of stress. The association between positive affect and mortality risk was weaker and not significant among participants who reported low levels of stress (HR = 0.98; 95% CI = 0.89, 1.08). Conclusion: Our results support the stress-buffering model and illustrate that the association between positive affect and reduced risk may be strongest under challenging circumstances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-60
JournalJournal of Psychosomatic Research
Volume100
Early online date8 Jul 2017
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Jul 2017

Keywords

  • positive emotions
  • stress and coping measures
  • mortality
  • longitudinal study

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