Spousal Loss Predicts Alterations in Diurnal Cortisol Activity Through Prospective Changes in Positive Emotion

Anthony D. Ong, Thomas E. Fuller-Rowell, George A. Bonanno, David M. Almeida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Objective: The objective of this study was to examine the role of spousal bereavement and positive emotion in naturally occurring levels of daily cortisol. Methods: Analyses were conducted using data from the Midlife in the United States survey and the National Study of Daily Experiences. Baseline assessments of extraversion, neuroticism, trait positive emotion, and trait negative emotion were obtained, as were reports of demographic and health behavior covariates. Salivary cortisol levels were measured at wakeup, 30 min after awakening, before lunch, and at bedtime on each of 4 successive days. Results: Multilevel growth curve analyses indicated that independent of age, gender, education, extraversion, neuroticism, negative emotion, medication use, and smoking, spousal bereavement was associated with lower levels of cortisol at wakeup and a flattening of the diurnal cortisol rhythm. Mediation analyses revealed that prospective changes in positive emotion accounted for the impact of bereavement on diurnal cortisol slopes. Conclusion: The current prospective study is among the first to provide evidence for a role for positive emotion as a mechanism by which bereavement influences hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulation in older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-227
Number of pages8
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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