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Trans-NIH Initiative Builds Research Network to Measure Emotional Well-Being

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) hosted the final spring 2022 session of the NCCIH Integrated Medicine Research Lecture series, titled “Advancing Research on Emotional Well-Being and Regulation of Eating” (see the recording here). The lecture featured Elissa Epel, Ph.D., past President of The Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, and past FABBS Council Representative

Dr. Epel’s talk highlighted opportunities for engagement and findings from her National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Network on Emotional Well Being – which encompasses lab sites from multiple institutions to investigate the aspects of emotional well-being (EWB) at the individual and population levels. The second part of the lecture covered her research looking at eating as a health behavior shaped by stress and EWB.

Dr. Epel and her colleagues lead this research network to work on the Advancing Psychosocial and Biobehavioral Approaches to Improve Emotional Well-Being project. The NIH also funded other unique networks to carry out EWB research projects, found here.

Dr. Emily Edwards, Director of the NCCIH Division of Extramural Research, leads this trans-NIH initiative on EWB, along with colleagues from the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research (OBSSR), the Office of Disease Prevention, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the National Institute of Aging (NIA). In 2018, the NIH convened the first roundtable to advance research in well-being. In 2020, these NIH institutes released the funding opportunity announcement to convene researchers from various disciplines to form research networks to advance research in the field of EWB.

‘Emotional Well-Being’ is defined as the overall positive state of one’s emotions, life satisfaction, sense of meaning and purpose, and ability to pursue self-defined goals. Using this definition as a starting point, research in the field is developing models and standards in analyzing factors that shape EWB, such as the roles of family and social connection, and evaluating assets like optimism as mediators or outcomes of EWB. 

Opportunities for FABBS Members

The Network offers an online training resource on how researchers can harmonize well-being measures and datasets when using psychosocial data in existing national cohort studies. To further help researchers carry out cross-national comparisons, the Network is offering pilot studies this fall (up to $15,000) to analyze some of the harmonized data on how EWB and stress work together. “There is less research on the growth factors and dynamic trajectories of resilient responses than there are of measures of disease risk factors. So, our group is focusing on understanding positive physiology.” The Network is also offering up to $50,000 for small pilot studies to help promote the EWB pathway framework and to develop creative interventions using positive physiology (as part of a larger study or a small proof of concept design). The Network will host an open meeting in October to start the Positive Physiology sub-group, to help facilitate these studies.

One focus in EWB research looks at optimism as a positive factor in predicting health span trajectory. A recently published meta-analysis illustrates how optimism (and conversely, pessimism) influences health; investigators from the EWB network just published one of the largest studies on optimism and longevity which found that, across ethnicity and race, optimism predicts five percent longer life as well as ten percent likelihood of exceptional longevity, or living past 90 years. In another new study by the Network, researchers looked at the transformative positive emotion of inducing awe to promote stress resilience. The findings showed that inducing awe lowers heart rate reactivity when talking about stressful events.

On a bigger scale, the Network on EWB is also developing a cohort of over 230,00 participants who provide data on stress and well-being using an optic sensor in the mobile app MyBPLab, to evaluate participants’ blood pressure against measures of emotional well-being.  The Network also compiled a public dataset (Gateway to Global Aging Data) of over 30 population-based studies to understand well-being and aging around the world.

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