Positive psychological attributes and cardiac outcomes: associations, mechanisms, and interventions

Psychosomatics. 2012 Jul-Aug;53(4):303-18. doi: 10.1016/j.psym.2012.04.004.


Background: Intervention research at the intersection of psychiatry and cardiology has primarily focused on the relationship between negative psychological syndromes (e.g., depression) and cardiac outcomes, with less emphasis on positive psychological attributes, such as optimism, gratitude, and well-being, as they relate to cardiac disease.

Methods: Literature is reviewed in three specific areas regarding positive attributes and cardiac disease: (1) associations between positive attributes and cardiac outcomes, (2) potential mechanisms-both behavioral and physiologic-by which positive psychological states may impact cardiovascular health, and (3) interventions aimed at cultivating positive psychological attributes in healthy and medically ill persons.

Results: There is significant evidence that positive psychological attributes--especially optimism--may be independently associated with superior cardiac outcomes. Positive attributes appear to be associated with increased participation in cardiac health behaviors (e.g., healthy eating, physical activity) linked to beneficial outcomes; data linking positive psychological states and biomarkers of cardiac health (e.g., inflammatory markers) is mixed but suggests a potential association. Positive psychological interventions have consistently been associated with improved well-being and reduced depressive symptoms, though there have been few such studies in the medically ill.

Conclusions: These findings regarding the relationship between positive psychological attributes and cardiac health are promising and suggest that positive psychology interventions may be worth study in this population. However, questions remain about the strength and specificity of these relationships, the most salient positive psychological attributes, and the impact of positive psychological interventions on health outcomes in cardiac patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Heart Diseases / epidemiology
  • Heart Diseases / physiopathology
  • Heart Diseases / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Personality
  • Psychotherapy / methods