Narrative descriptions of parental love and caring predict health status in midlife: A 35-year follow-up of the harvard mastery of stress study

Linda G. Russek, Gary E. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

Perceived social support has been established as an important determinant of mortality risk. The perception of parental love and caring reflects the core of social support in the first 20 years of life. In the early 1950s, narrative descriptions of parents were obtained from a sample of healthy undergraduate men at Harvard University who participated in the Harvard Mastery of Stress Study. In a 35-year prospective follow-up investigation, detailed medical and psychological histories and medical records were obtained. Subjects who had illnesses such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, duodenal ulcer, and alcoholism in midlife had used significantly fewer positive words to describe their parents (eg, loving, friendly, warm, open, understanding, sympathetic, just) while in college. This effect was independent of the subject's age, family history of illness, smoking behavior, marital history, and the death or divorce of the subject's parents. Furthermore, 95% of subjects who used few positive words and also rated their parents low in parental caring had diseases diagnosed in midlife, whereas only 29% of subjects who used many positive words and also rated their parents high in parental caring had diseases diagnosed in midlife. Because parents are usually the most meaningful source of love and caring for much of early life, the perception of parental love and caring may play a special role in promoting long-term health. The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that love and caring play an important role in healing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-62
Number of pages8
JournalAlternative therapies in health and medicine
Volume2
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and alternative medicine

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