Which Aspects of Positive Affect Are Related to Mortality? Results From a General Population Longitudinal Study

Ann Behav Med. 2018 May 31;52(7):571-581. doi: 10.1093/abm/kax018.


Background: Previous research has shown a link between low positive affect and mortality, but questions remain about how positive affect is related to mortality and how this differs by gender and age.

Purpose: To investigate the relationships between positive affect, negative affect, and mortality in a general population sample, and to examine whether these relationships were related to age, sex, or cause-specific mortality.

Methods: We used data from 5,554 Norwegian participants aged 47-49 and 71-74 years who completed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and also provided data on demographics, health behaviors, and physical health as part of the Hordaland Health Study. The primary outcome was mortality after an average follow-up period of 16.5 years.

Results: Participants in the lowest positive affect tertile had a near twofold increased mortality risk, compared to those in the highest positive affect tertile. This association was driven primarily by the PANAS "active" item and persisted, even after controlling for activity-related confounds and other positive affect items. No significant associations were found between negative affect and mortality. The relationship between positive affect and mortality was not significantly attenuated by age or sex. Although low positive affect was associated with an increased risk of mortality, it was not related to a specific cause of death.

Conclusions: Low positive affect was significantly associated with mortality risk. The relationship was driven by the PANAS active item and not associated with cause-specific mortality. Findings suggest future research should examine the association between feeling inactive, sedentary behavior, and subsequent mortality.

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Psychological Tests
  • Risk Factors