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The mechanisms underlying the association between positive emotions and physical health remain a mystery. We hypothesize that an upward-spiral dynamic continually reinforces the tie between positive emotions and physical health and that this spiral is mediated by people's perceptions of their positive social connections. We tested this overarching hypothesis in a longitudinal field experiment in which participants were randomly assigned to an intervention group that self-generated positive emotions via loving-kindness meditation or to a waiting-list control group. Participants in the intervention group increased in positive emotions relative to those in the control group, an effect moderated by baseline vagal tone, a proxy index of physical health. Increased positive emotions, in turn, produced increases in vagal tone, an effect mediated by increased perceptions of social connections. This experimental evidence identifies one mechanism-perceptions of social connections-through which positive emotions build physical health, indexed as vagal tone. Results suggest that positive emotions, positive social connections, and physical health influence one another in a self-sustaining upward-spiral dynamic.
B. L. Fredrickson's (1998, 2001) broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions asserts that people's daily experiences of positive emotions compound over time to build a variety of consequential personal resources. The authors tested this build hypothesis in a field experiment with working adults (n = 139), half of whom were randomly-assigned to begin a practice of loving-kindness meditation. Results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms. Discussion centers on how positive emotions are the mechanism of change for the type of mind-training practice studied here and how loving-kindness meditation is an intervention strategy that produces positive emotions in a way that outpaces the hedonic treadmill effect. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)