Can positive emotions improve physical health? an examination of some claims from positive psychology

Nick Brown

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

    13002 Downloads (Pure)


    Health psychologists hope to improve people’s emotional well-being for two main reasons. First, improving people’s psychological state is desirable for its own sake. Second, it is well established that people with lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety are more likely to show up for doctor’s appointments and stick to their treatment or diet plans. However, in recent years some researchers in the field of positive psychology have published results that suggest that there may also be some form of direct relation between positive emotions and better physical health, caused by internal physiological processes. In some cases these processes are explicitly hypothesized (such as more favourable gene expression or better functioning of the vagal nerve). Several of these studies received extensive coverage in the popular media. In this thesis, a number of claims of this type made in highly cited articles in the positive psychology literature are examined, by conducting detailed reanalyses of their published studies at the level of their theories, methods, and statistics. In each case there are a number of methodological and analytical problems that cast serious doubts on the claims made in these studies. I conclude that there is, at present, very little empirical support for the idea that enhanced positive emotions lead directly to improved physical health outcomes. The thesis discusses the implications of our findings for future research, as well as for the training of positive psychology graduate students.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Ranchor, Adelita, Supervisor
    • Albers, Casper, Co-supervisor
    Award date4-Nov-2019
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Print ISBNs978-94-034-2009-7
    Electronic ISBNs978-94-034-2008-0
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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