The Association Between Emotional Expressivity in Early Adulthood and Healthy Aging in Late Adulthood
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Canada’s population is aging quickly, with growth in the population of older adults now exceeding that of younger adults. This increase emphasizes the need for research on healthy aging to determine potential predictors that may lead to improved aging outcomes. Healthy aging models and theories have incorporated various components, such as physical, cognitive and self-assessments of health, into the definitions of healthy aging. Emotions expressed in early adulthood may affect how well individuals age, given the strong associations found between emotional expressivity and longevity. Specifically, positive emotional expression has been linked with longevity. Although longevity may be indicative of an individual living a long, healthy life, it does not necessarily equate to healthy aging. Thus, determining if an association exists between emotional expressivity in early adulthood and healthy aging in late adulthood should be considered a priority given the current and future population demographics. This research project aimed to assess this association using data from the Nun Study. The Nun Study is a longitudinal study of aging and health. It included 678 members from the School Sisters of Notre Dame who were 75 years of age or older at baseline. From archival records, a total of 180 autobiographies handwritten by the sisters in early adulthood (mean age = 22) were coded for emotional content (i.e., positive, negative, and neutral emotion words). The current study focused on the positive and negative emotion words and the overall combination of the two. The outcome of healthy aging was previously constructed using Nun Study data, and incorporates performance-based measures of cognitive and physical function and self-rated function. Healthy aging was assessed dichotomously and as four levels (i.e., excellent, very good, good, and not healthy aging). Analyses included descriptive analyses, such as univariate and bivariate statistics, as well as multivariable analyses using binomial and multinomial logistic regression techniques, with an analytic sample of 149 participants. This research project aimed to strengthen current knowledge regarding emotions and healthy aging. Additionally, exploring the associations using a four-level healthy aging outcome provided an opportunity to examine a more detailed definition of healthy aging compared to typical dichotomous healthy aging definitions, to further clarify any significant findings. Based on the descriptive and multivariable analyses, significant associations were found between overall and positive emotional expressivity and two-level healthy aging. Among those with a Master’s degree or higher, participants aging well were approximately twenty times more likely to express high overall emotions (OR: 20.19, 95% CI: 2.09-681.26) or high positive emotions (OR: 19.54, 95% CI: 2.15-631.96) than those not aging well. In contrast, among those with a Bachelor’s degree, no significant associations were found for overall or positive emotional expressivity and two-level healthy aging. Using the four-level healthy aging outcome, significant positive associations were found between high overall emotional expressivity and the ‘excellent’ level of healthy aging, compared to those not aging well, when no covariates were present, and in the models adjusted for APOE-ε4 and for idea density, but not for the fully adjusted model. Although not statistically significant, a pattern was found among the models using four-level healthy aging, whereby as the level of healthy aging moved from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’, the odds of expressing high overall and positive emotions increased. No significant associations were found between negative emotional expressivity and a lower likelihood of aging well when using either the two or four-level healthy aging measure. The findings from this research build off of the significant associations already known between emotional expressivity and longevity, and establish emotional expressivity as a possible predictor for healthy aging. By clarifying the role that emotions play towards aging well, individuals may be able to modify their emotions to reflect more positive emotions, or less negative emotions. Additionally, creation of novel strategies or activities to maximize the expression of more positive emotions may lead to potentially healthier aging outcomes with benefits for both individuals and society.
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Dylan Franklin (2018). The Association Between Emotional Expressivity in Early Adulthood and Healthy Aging in Late Adulthood. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/13602