A cross-sectional analysis of the association between perceived network social control and telomere length

Health Psychol. 2015 May;34(5):531-8. doi: 10.1037/hea0000148. Epub 2014 Aug 11.


Objective: Social control in the health domain refers to attempts by social network members to get an individual to modify their health behaviors. According to the dual effects model of social control, having one's health behavior controlled by others should be related to healthier behavioral change, but might arouse psychological distress as one may resent being controlled. Despite potential healthy behavior change, the stress of social control may thus be detrimental as interpersonal stress has been related to negative health outcomes. In the present study, the association between perceived social control and telomere length was tested to examine its association to biological outcomes.

Method: In this cross-sectional study, a relatively healthy community sample of 140 middle age and older adults completed measures of perceived social control, perceived stress, and health behaviors. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were used to determine telomere length.

Results: Main results showed that higher levels of perceived direct social network control were associated with shorter telomere length. These links were not influenced by statistical controls for medication use, self-rated health, trait hostility, and optimism. Perceived social control was also related to greater perceived stress but not health behaviors overall. However, neither perceived stress nor health behaviors mediated the link between social control and telomere length.

Conclusions: Although the study design precludes strong inferences, these results suggest that perceived social control may be associated with cellular aging. These data also highlight the utility of integrating biological outcomes into social control models. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception*
  • Social Control, Informal*
  • Social Support*
  • Telomere*