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By H. Roger Segelken

Republished from Cornell Chronicle, April 25, 2016

Ong & Loeckenhoff

Human development professors Anthony Ong and Corinna Loeckenoff. Jason Koski/University Photography

New approaches to understanding physical and psychological changes in old age – differences in personality, for instance, or responses to stressful events and the role of positive emotions in promoting well-being – are presented in a new book co-edited by Cornell human development professors Anthony Ongand Corinna Loeckenhoff.

Emotion, Aging, and Health” presents selected concepts from the Fourth Biennial Urie Bronfenbrenner Conference on New Developments in Aging, Emotion and Health hosted on campus in 2013 by Loeckenhoff and Ong.

“We’re only beginning to understand the complex interplay between emotional experiences and physical health across the adult life span,” said Loeckenhoff. “One of the most important developments in recent years is this: We can finally draw connections between subjective emotional experience, patterns of brain activation, and biomarkers of chronic stress.”

Loeckenhoff said science has been “so focused on understanding emotion as a marker of mental health that we have overlooked its implications for physical health. Especially in later life, emotional responses can buffer the adverse effects of physical conditions; but they (emotional responses) can also be a risk factor for adverse health outcomes.”

Ong said the publication “provides a state-of-the art overview of methods and approaches associated with the study of emotional aging and health. The chapters, written by leading researchers in the field, discuss topics such as emotion regulation, cross-cultural research, healthy aging and interventions.” He hopes some of the questions raised will stimulate future investigation, and that the new volume will help students and scholars “gain a working understanding of research approaches and key issues at the intersection of emotion, aging and health.”

emotion book

Conference presenters – mainly psychologists and experts in human development – came from an international cross-section of institutions: Cornell, Harvard, Northeastern and Stanford universities and the University of California, among others, as well as Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

Previous topics for the conference-and-publication series honoring Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005), the longtime Cornell professor of human development and of psychology, included “Chaos and Its Influence on Children’s Development” and “The Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making.” A founder of the national Head Start program, Bronfenbrenner joined the Cornell faculty in 1948. The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) in the College of Human Ecology honors his vision to join science and service.

Writing the volume’s foreword, gerontologist Karl Pillemer, Cornell’s Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human Development and BCTR director, imagines the book would please Bronfenbrenner. “As a translational researcher before the name existed, he would embrace the themes of development and plasticity in later life, the importance given to social and cultural factors in understanding emotions, and the commitment to applying these scientific insights in creating an optimal world in which to grow old.”

H. Roger Segelken is a freelance writer.

Relax. Breathe. It’s all small stuff. When faced with life’s daily challenges, adults who don’t maintain a positive outlook have shown elevated physiological markers for inflaming cardiovascular and autoimmune disease, according to new research by Cornell University and Penn State psychologists.

Anthony Ong

Anthony Ong

“Hassles and minor frustrations are common in day-to-day living. Our findings suggest that how people react to daily stressors may matter more … than the frequency of such stressors,” explain the researchers in “Affective Reactivity to Daily Stressors is Associated with Elevated Inflammation,” published June 8 in the journal Health Psychology and co-authored by Anthony Ong, Cornell associate professor of human development; along with Penn State researchers Nancy Sin, Jennifer Graham-Engeland and David Almeida.

While many scientists have studied how chronic stress affects human health, the researchers explained that little is known about how reactivity to daily stressors affects biomarkers of inflammation.

The study found that those people who had difficulty maintaining positive emotional engagement during times of stress appeared to be particularly at risk for elevated levels of inflammation.

The researchers surveyed nearly 870 midlife and older adults. People who experienced greater decreases in positive affect on days when stress occurred were found to have increased amounts of interleukin-6 (a protein that acts as an inflammatory or anti-inflammatory agent) and C-reactive protein (an anti-inflammatory agent). Women who experience increased negative affect when faced with minor stressors may be at particular risk of elevated inflammation.

“Previous research suggests that the chronic experience of joy and happiness may slow down the physiological effects of aging,” Ong said. “This study extends that research by showing that possessing stable levels of ‘positive affect’ may be conducive to good health, while disturbances in daily positive affect may be associated with heightened inflammatory immune responses.”

Ong explained, “These findings are novel because they point to the importance of daily positive emotion regulation that until now have largely been neglected in studies of stress and inflammation.”

urieTND50 years later, recalling a founder of Head Start                                                                          A half century ago, Cornell developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner gave Congressional testimony that eventually led to the creation of the Head Start program.
Language-loss study reveals early signs of AAlzheimersWord_465x170lzheimer's disease                                               Loss of early childhood language skills, rather than those skills attained later in life, might be a predictor for Alzheimer's disease, according to a new Cornell study.

Ceci-TND70x70Stephen Ceci elected to National Academy of Education                                             Stephen Ceci, Cornell’s Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology, has been elected to the National Academy of Education for his outstanding scholarship on education.

Chancel Award Metal18 Cornellians win SUNY Chancellor's Awards for Excellence                                    Eighteen students, faculty and staff in Cornell's contract colleges have won State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor's Awards for Excellence for 2015.
Chinese_flag_(Beijing)_-_IMG_1104Lehman Fund makes 10 awards for China Study                                                                           Fourteen Cornell scholars received 2015 awards from the Jeffrey S. Lehman Fund for Scholarly Exchange with China. 
older people dancingPrevailing over pain                                                                                                                               Human Ecology's Translational Research Institute for Pain in Later Life, received a $1.95 million grant from National Institute on Aging.
Anthony BurrowAnthony Burrow among faculty saluted by OADI
Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives held its second annual awards, named after George Washington Fields and 9 other Cornellian trailblazers.

Students in the News

Anna Zhu Smart choice:  Award-winning app connects patients and hospitals
Department of Human Development graduate, Anna Zhu '14, developed an app to help patients find the hospital that best matches their health needs.
great minds 3.400HD Students present their research at 30th CURB forum
HD students were among the 120 undergraduates who presented their research at Duffield Hall as part of the annual event hosted by the Cornell Undergraduate Research Board (CURB)

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> How children develop the idea of free will

 New Resources

Urie mag_cover_200x258
Urie: The scientist who remade the field of human development                                                                     Fifty years after the launch of Head Start, Urie Bronfenbrenner-one of the architects of the federal program for underserved families-is remembered as a giant in his field. Former students, research partners, and Cornell faculty members share their thoughts on the late Bronfenbrenner's legacy as a scholar, mentor, researcher, and champion for youth and families. Also in this issue: A tour through 150 Years of Big Red fashion; gerontologist Karl Pillemer's latest book, sharing elder wisdom on love and marriage; long-running, legendary courses in the College of Human Ecology; alumni and campus updates and special sesquicentennial content.
> The Memory Factory


Students, faculty and staff in Cornell's contract colleges have won State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor's Awards for Excellence for 2015.

Faculty and staff recipients of the award have served their campuses and communities with distinction. Students were honored as leaders, role models and volunteers, and for their academic achievements.

Those honored this year are:

  • Excellence in Faculty Service: Carol Devine, professor of nutritional sciences, College of Human Ecology (HE); Mark Sorrells, plant breeding and genetics, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).
  • Excellence in Professional Service: Lars Angenent, biological and environmental engineering, CALS; Ann LaFave, CALS Office of Academic Programs; Thomas O’Toole, executive director, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, HE.
  • Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities: Charles Brainerd, professor and chair of human development, HE.
  • Excellence in Teaching: Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development, HE; Jeffrey Niederdeppe, associate professor of communication, CALS; M. Todd Walter, associate professor, biological and environmental engineering, CALS.
  • Student Excellence: Alexa Bakker ‘15, science of natural and environment systems, (CALS); Katherine Bibi, DVM ‘15, College of Veterinary Medicine; Emily Clark ’15, policy analysis and management, CALS; Atticus DeProspo ‘15, industrial and labor relations (ILR School); Owen Lee-Park ’15, human biology, health and society (HE); Rachel Harmon ‘15, industrial and labor relations (ILR); Aaron Match ‘15, atmospheric science (CALS); Patrick Satchell, DVM ’15, veterinary medicine; and Maia Vernacchia ‘15, food science (CALS).