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Psychological Well-Being and Ill-Being: Do They Have Distinct or Mirrored Biological Correlates?

Ryff C.D.a · Dienberg Love G.a · Urry H.L.a · Muller D.a · Rosenkranz M.A.a · Friedman E.M.a · Davidson R.J.a · Singer B.b
aUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisc., and bPrinceton University, Princeton, N.J., USA Psychother Psychosom 2006;75:85–95 (DOI:10.1159/000090892)

Abstract

Background: Increasingly, researchers attend to both positive and negative aspects of mental health. Such distinctions call for clarification of whether psychological well-being and ill-being comprise opposite ends of a bipolar continuum, or are best construed as separate, independent dimensions of mental health. Biology can help resolve this query – bipolarity predicts ‘mirrored’ biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being correlate similarly with biomarkers, but show opposite directional signs), whereas independence predicts ‘distinct’ biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being have different biological signatures). Methods: Multiple aspects of psychological well-being (eudaimonic, hedonic) and ill-being (depression, anxiety, anger) were assessed in a sample of aging women (n = 135, mean age = 74) on whom diverse neuroendocrine (salivary cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA-S) and cardiovascular factors (weight, waist-hip ratio, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total/HDL cholesterol, glycosylated hemoglobin) were also measured. Results: Measures of psychological well-being and ill-being were significantly linked with numerous biomarkers, with some associations being more strongly evident for respondents aged 75+. Outcomes for seven biomarkers supported the distinct hypothesis, while findings for only two biomarkers supported the mirrored hypothesis. Conclusion: This research adds to the growing literature on how psychological well-being and mental maladjustment are instantiated in biology. Population-based inquiries and challenge studies constitute important future directions.

 

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