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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dyadic interrelations in emotional experiences among older spouses : associations with concurrent and longer-term changes in health Michalowski, Victoria Izabela


While links between emotional experiences and health are well-established, extant research is largely based on individuals and cross-sectional data, which is limiting given that emotional experiences are dynamic and interpersonal. In older age, emotional experiences are often maintained or improved relative to earlier life phases, due to adaptive emotion regulation strategies and motivational shifts in priorities. This dissertation aimed to identify socio-emotional pathways underlying health with aging, by taking both spousal perceptions and multiple time-scales into account. This research primarily used data from up to 119 older adult couples, who simultaneously completed 28 momentary assessments of affect and salivary cortisol over a 7-day period, and annual assessments of cardiovascular risk and environmental mastery over three years. Simultaneous assessments in daily life facilitated investigating emotion dynamics in a social context, and were further linked with processes that unfold over different timescales. Study 1 focused on the role of intraindividual affect variability in facilitating empathic accuracy. Older adults more accurately perceived the happiness of their spouse if they themselves were more variable in their happiness, whereas affect variability was unrelated to being read well. Findings replicated in a similar data set of older adult couples. Study 2 examined dyadic covariation in affect and the stress hormone cortisol to illuminate how emotional experiences ‘get under the skin’ in everyday settings. Changes in one’s own affect corresponded with changes in one’s own salivary cortisol. Changes in one’s partner’s affect were only associated with own salivary cortisol if the partner was perceived as having shared their feelings more than usual. Study 3 linked spousal fluctuations in affect with longitudinal physical and mental health indicators. Individual and spousal affect variability were negatively associated with concurrent and long-term health, as indicated by elevated pulse pressure for men and low environmental mastery for women. Spouses sharing their feelings was generally beneficial for health. Taken together, this dissertation identifies key social dynamics in emotional experiences that shape health in older adult couples, pointing to the double-edged nature of spousal interrelations in emotional experiences for levels and changes in health in older adulthood.

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