NIH networks to advance emotional well-being research

Feb. 3, 2021

Five new research networks with $3.13 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will allow investigators to refine and test key concepts that advance the study of emotional well-being, reported the agency. 

Emotional well-being has been defined as an overall positive state of one’s emotions, life satisfaction, sense of meaning and purpose, and ability to pursue self-defined goals. The opportunity to research emotional well-being and its core components — a sense of balance in emotion, thoughts, social relationships, and pursuits — aligns with NIH’s broader objectives of fostering health promotion and disease prevention. For example, having a sense of purpose in life has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

These research networks, funded in part by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA), aim to advance the field by facilitating transdisciplinary research in the social, behavioral, psychological, biological, and neurobiological sciences. Additional co-funding for these networks comes from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), and the NIH Office of Disease Prevention (ODP). 

“Understanding the science of emotional well-being and how we can apply its concepts to help people live and feel better will benefit our efforts to improve health and healthcare,” said Dr. Helene Langevin, NCCIH director. “Sustained well-being benefits the whole person, helping individuals manage stress and anxiety over the long term.” 

The establishment of these unique research networks is meant to encourage meetings, conferences, small-scale pilot research, multidisciplinary cross training, and information dissemination among leading scientists across disciplines and institutions. 

“These networks will identify factors that influence emotional well-being over the life course and inform the design of interventions to promote emotional health and reduce suffering in at-risk populations of all ages,” said Dr. Lis Nielsen, director of the NIA Division of Social and Behavioral Research. 

The networks funded by NCCIH include: 

·        Emotional Well-being and Economic Burden Research Network; University of Alabama at Birmingham; Maria Pisu, Ph.D. This project will address research questions pertinent to healthcare-related financial burden and emotional well-being in real-world contexts and in diverse populations.

·         Network to Advance the Study of Mechanisms Underlying Mind-Body Interventions and Measurement of Emotional Well-being; University of Connecticut, Storrs; Crystal Park, Ph.D. This project will illuminate the role of emotional well-being in mind and body interventions as both an outcome itself and as a mechanism in improving mental and physical health outcomes.

·         The Plasticity of Well-being: A Research Network to Define, Measure, and Promote Human Flourishing; University of Wisconsin-Madison; Richard Davidson, Ph.D. This project will advance understanding of how to promote and protect well-being in everyday life, identify the core plastic constituents of emotional well-being, develop robust measures of these constituents at biological, behavioral, and experiential levels of analysis, and characterize the plasticity of these constituents. 

The networks funded by NIA include: 

·         Advancing Psychosocial & Biobehavioral Approaches to Improve Emotional Well-being; University of California, San Francisco; Elissa Epel, Ph.D. This project will catalyze innovation and progress of mechanistic research on emotional well-being by fostering a scientific community focused on health span across 30 countries, behavioral intervention development, and creation of a measures repository.

·         Network for Emotional Well-being and Brain Aging (NEW Brain Aging); University of Rochester, New York; Feng Lin, Ph.D., R.N. This project will identify and test mechanisms by which brain aging influences emotional well-being and how emotional well-being may impact risk for and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in human and experimental models. 

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