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Social Network Composition and Inflammation at Midlife: A Socioemotional Selectivity Theory Perspective

Hillmann, Abby (2023) Social Network Composition and Inflammation at Midlife: A Socioemotional Selectivity Theory Perspective. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) of aging posits that the narrowing of social networks with age (i.e., pruning peripheral members and maintaining close members) is an adaptive and purposeful process that provides emotional benefits. It has yet to be tested whether the benefits of social network narrowing extend to measures of physical health over time, such as markers of inflammation. The current study aimed to: (1) Characterize age-related changes in social network composition and inflammation; (2) Test whether age-related changes in social network composition associate with levels of inflammation; and (3) Explore whether changes in positive affect mediate the relationship between social network composition and inflammation. Participants were 350 healthy midlife adults enrolled in the longitudinal arm of the Adult Health and Behavior study (45% male, 89% white, wave 1 mean age =45 years); wave 2 data collection occurred approximately 15 years later. At both waves, participants self-reported their social network composition (Social Network Index) and trait positive affect (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule), and blood was drawn to assess markers of systemic inflammation (IL-6, CRP, TNF-). Social network composition was categorized using ratios of close to peripheral relationships. As expected, social network ratios increased over time and close relationships were more likely to be maintained than peripheral (t(349)= -2.95, p=.003). Also as expected, most inflammatory markers increased over time (IL-6: t(349)= -7.70, p<.001; CRP: t(349)= -3.99, p<.001), but TNF- decreased (t(349)= 1.96, p=.051). Unexpectedly, changes in social network composition were not associated with levels of IL-6, CRP, or TNF- at wave 2 controlling for wave 1 inflammation (p’s >.146), and positive affect did not operate as a mediator. There was a positive association between maintaining peripheral social network members and increases in positive affect (b=.12, SE=.047, t=2.64, p=.008). Overall, these findings support the SST hypothesis of social network narrowing with age, but not the hypothesis that social network narrowing is adaptive for promoting positive affect or lowering inflammation. The association between maintaining peripheral relationships and positive affect may suggest voluntary relationships provide more emotional benefits.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairMarsland,
Committee CoChairManuck,
Thesis AdvisorReed,
Date: 16 May 2023
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 5 April 2023
Approval Date: 16 May 2023
Submission Date: 6 April 2023
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 82
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Social relationships, inflammation, aging, socioemotional selectivity theory
Date Deposited: 16 May 2023 14:38
Last Modified: 16 May 2023 14:38

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  • Social Network Composition and Inflammation at Midlife: A Socioemotional Selectivity Theory Perspective. (deposited 16 May 2023 14:38) [Currently Displayed]


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