Positive emotions in early life and longevity: findings from the nun study

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2001 May;80(5):804-13.


Handwritten autobiographies from 180 Catholic nuns, composed when participants were a mean age of 22 years, were scored for emotional content and related to survival during ages 75 to 95. A strong inverse association was found between positive emotional content in these writings and risk of mortality in late life (p < .001). As the quartile ranking of positive emotion in early life increased, there was a stepwise decrease in risk of mortality resulting in a 2.5-fold difference between the lowest and highest quartiles. Positive emotional content in early-life autobiographies was strongly associated with longevity 6 decades later. Underlying mechanisms of balanced emotional states are discussed.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autobiographies as Topic
  • Baltimore / epidemiology
  • Catholicism
  • Clergy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longevity*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Population Surveillance
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate
  • Wisconsin / epidemiology