MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Ph.D. Student in Social Psychology
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI 53706
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: A growing number of studies have shown that positive emotions predict better physical health. However, a caveat of these findings is that most studies have been conducted with Western samples. As cultural psychologists, we have learned that European American cultural contexts are particular in that positive emotions are highly valued and emphasized. For example, in East Asian cultures, it is a commonly shared view that positive emotions have some dark sides such as that they are fleeting, may attract unnecessary attention from others, and can be a distraction from focusing on important tasks. Given the cultural differences in emotions, we thought it would be important to test whether the established link between positive emotion and enhanced physical health are relevant to other cultural contexts, such as those in East Asia.
We focused on blood lipids profiles, one of the major risk factors for heart diseases, as objective measures of health. Because of the global prevalence of coronary artery diseases, blood lipids are considered important indices of biological health in many Western and East Asian countries. In addition, blood lipids are largely influenced by lifestyles and behavioral factors so we further tested the role of various health behaviors (i.e., dietary habits, body mass index, smoking, alcohol consumption) in the lipids-emotion link in different cultures.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: The key finding is that positive emotions predict blood lipid profiles differently across cultures. American adults who experience high levels of positive emotions such as “cheerful” and “extremely happy”, are more likely to have healthy blood-lipid profiles, even after accounting for other predictors such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, and chronic conditions. However, it was not true for Japanese adults. Furthermore, such cultural differences were explained by the link between lipids and body mass index (BMI). Although low BMI predicts healthy lipid profiles in both cultures, positive moods predicts low BMI only among Americans, leading to healthy lipids.
MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Response: The take-home message is that cultural context matters for understanding the link between emotion and health, which has been largely ignored in the literature. Although limited studies have examined the cultural differences in the link between positive emotions and healthy functioning, this work is the first to test the idea using biological measures of health and large representative samples.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: Our work does not shed a light on the causality between the emotions and health
because it is based on correlational data. Thus, future study should examine longitudinal data when they become available. Furthermore, given the lack of association between positive emotions and lipids in our Japanese sample, it would be important to identify emotional profiles that are more relevant to health in other cultural contexts.
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Linking Positive Affect to Blood Lipids: A Cultural Perspective.
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