It is indisputable that health declines with age, and that the rate of decline is not the same for everyone. Many sources of accelerated risk of illness have been identified in prior research, and among the most reliable predictors of ill health are social stressors, including abusive social relations in childhood. Early life adversity may lead to poorer mental health and physical functioning in midlife through various pathways;among the most likely paths are social in origin, including troubled family relationships, heightened sensitivity to interpersonal stressors, and social isolation. Is it possible to interrupt this caus-effect pairing between early adversity and illness in later life? This grant examines that question Specifically, we address whether the individual differences in risk attributable to childhood adversity are reversible through a social intelligence (SI) intervention for an established cohort of community residents who were part of a comprehensive study of biopsychosocial markers of resilience at Mid-Life. We have three primary objectives in this research: (1) to examine whether an SI intervention can enhance the capacity for rewarding social relations, especially for individuals with a history of early life adversity. (2) To examine evidence for our hypothesis that intervention-related gains in the quality of social relationship will be responsible for the improvements in psychological, and physical functioning, and influence two bio- markers of health risk and resilience: interleukin 6 (IL-6) and DHEA-S. (3) To probe for individual differences in age, gender, history of abuse, personality, and genetic markers of risk that identif participants most responsive to the intervention. To address these questions, an SI intervention will be delivered to a random-selected half of 220 middle-aged participants: Half with a history of child abuse and half who did not report abuse. The program is an on-line self-instructional series of videos with awareness exercises and behavioral practices designed to enhance fund of knowledge about relationships, increase skills, and enhance motivation to engage socially. In addition to charting social relations with daily diaries, we will assess participants'social, psychological, and physical functioning at pre-test, post-test, three months, and six months following the intervention. We hypothesize that the SI intervention will prompt lasting improvement in the ability to establish, maintain, and benefit from social relations in comparison to controls, which will lead to better psychological and physical functioning. We will examine evidence for the hypothesis that the benefits of the intervention will be largest for individuals who have experienced greater early childhood adversity, as well as probe other individual differences in receptivity to the SI program that will inform future efforts to refine, test and disseminate this innovative program.

Public Health Relevance

Childhood adversity leads to social difficulties, chronic illness, and early mortality for many, but not all adults: Some are resilient. We will test whether an on-line program focused on enhancing social relationships for people in mid-life can increase the odds that those with a history of a troubled childhood will not suffer a greater loss in mental and physical health than those without those histories. Our findings will bring the field significantly closer to the day when we can offer low cost interventions that work to strengthen the capacities of people to overcome the challenges that arise from adverse treatment early in life.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAG1)
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Nielsen, Lisbeth
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Arizona State University-Tempe Campus
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Hülür, Gizem; Heckhausen, Jutta; Hoppmann, Christiane A et al. (2017) Levels of and changes in life satisfaction predict mortality hazards: Disentangling the role of physical health, perceived control, and social orientation. Psychol Aging 32:507-520
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Infurna, Frank J; Luthar, Suniya S (2017) The multidimensional nature of resilience to spousal loss. J Pers Soc Psychol 112:926-947
Infurna, Frank J; Luthar, Suniya S (2016) Resilience Has Been and Will Always Be, but Rates Declared Are Inevitably Suspect: Reply to Galatzer-Levy and Bonanno (2016). Perspect Psychol Sci 11:199-201
Gerstorf, Denis; Hoppmann, Christiane A; Löckenhoff, Corinna E et al. (2016) Terminal decline in well-being: The role of social orientation. Psychol Aging 31:149-65
Infurna, Frank J; Luthar, Suniya S (2016) Resilience to Major Life Stressors Is Not as Common as Thought. Perspect Psychol Sci 11:175-94
Infurna, Frank J; Mayer, Axel (2015) The effects of constraints and mastery on mental and physical health: Conceptual and methodological considerations. Psychol Aging 30:432-48