Negative Emotions Predict Poor Health

Emotions are important for maintenance of physical health. Until recently, the link between negative emotions and poor health has only been studied in industrialized countries. A new study shows that positive emotions are important for good health throughout the world, especially for those who lack basic needs.

The association between poor health, especially for those who are impoverished, became evident when researchers from the University of Kansas decided to investigate the link between negative emotions and poor health in an analysis of people worldwide – many of whom lack basic needs.

The study, delivered at the 2009 annual American Psychosomatic Society in Chicago, presented data from the Gallup World Poll, which included a sampling of 95 percent of the world’s population, and included 150,000 people.

Sarah Pressman, assistant professor of psychology at KU and a Gallup senior research associate says, "We've known for a while now that emotions play a critical role in physical health… but until recently, most of this research was conducted only in industrialized countries…we couldn't know whether feelings like happiness or sadness matter to the health of people who have more pressing concerns — like getting enough to eat or finding shelter -but now we do." Dr. Pressman says the poll shows that negative emotions are a reliable way to predict poor health.

The study participants were asked to describe their emotions, physical well-being, and whether or not their basic needs were being met. The association between poor health, reported as pain and fatigue, and negative emotions was evident, even when taking into account a lack of basic needs.

The study shows that negative emotions predict poor health, regardless of impoverishment, but the risk of poor health from negative emotions is especially strong for those who lack basic comforts such as food and shelter.