Social relationships, positivity, and personality in older adulthood

TitleSocial relationships, positivity, and personality in older adulthood
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsIveniuk, J
AdvisorCagney, KA
Number of Pages194
Date Published2015
UniversityThe University of Chicago
Thesis TypePh.D.
Accession Number1667702261
KeywordsAdult children, Health Conditions and Status, Healthcare, Methodology

In this dissertation, I examine the implications of personality traits for social relationships in older adulthood. My work brings together insights from mid-20th century sociological theory, recent work by social network scholars, and personality psychologists. I build upon these insights in order to examine not only if personality traits are important for social relationships, but also under what social and relational circumstances. The personality characteristic that I focus on in this dissertation is Positivity, which I conceptualize as a person's overall positive (i.e. upbeat and socially desirable) characteristic patterns of thought and behavior. I measure Positivity using structural equation modeling techniques, applied to a Big Five personality battery in the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a nationally representative, longitudinal survey of older adults. I then employ Positivity scores in three empirical studies. In the first study, I examine older adults' social networks, and I find that Positivity is associated with feeling closer to one's confidants, and being more likely to open up to them about one's health. I also find that Neuroticism (emotional instability) is associated with being more likely to talk to one's friends about one's health. In the second study I use dyadic data from NSHAP to examine the implications of traits for marital conflict, with a focus on gender. I find that the Positivity of a husband is associated with reduced marital conflict according to the reports of his wife, but that a wife's Positivity is not associated with conflict according to her husband. In the final study I examine the implications of Positivity for the diagnosis of chronic conditions, using a combination of biomeasures and self-reports. I find that individuals who are more positive are more likely to be undiagnosed for their hyperglycemia, but not hypertension. I relate this finding to theories of doctor-patient interaction, as well as differences in medical procedures for diagnosing these two chronic conditions. I conclude by offering possibilities for sociological research on personality, arguing that issues related to personality cut across existing subfields of the discipline, and that these issues relate to key questions in sociological theory.


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Short TitleSocial relationships, positivity, and personality in older adulthood
Citation Key6353