Integrating Emotion into the
Study of Social Relationships and Health
Carol D. Ryff & Burton H. Singer
This volume emerged from the Third Annual Wisconsin Symposium on Emo-tion, which was held in Madison in 1997. The purpose of this symposium on “Emotion, Social Relationships, and Health” was to build bridges between the ever-expanding field of emotion research and the large body of literature that documents linkages between social relationships and health. Epidemiological studies have shown connections between social isolation or lack of social support and increased risk of various disease outcomes and reduced length of life (Berkman & Breslow, 1983; House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988; Seeman, 1996; Seeman, Berkman, Blazer, & Rowe, 1994; Uchino, Cacioppo, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1996). While emotion is sometimes part of such inquiries (for example, the inclusion of limited questions about whether individuals feel they have someone to talk to in time of need), most studies have focused on the amount (that is, number of individuals, frequency of contact) of those in the social network, not on the day-to day emotional experience ensuing from ties to significant others. This is the starting point for the present volume: we aim to dig more deeply into the nature of emotional interaction with significant others and its role in illuminating the established ties between social relationships and health.
To examine how emotion may play a key role in the social relations—health nexus requires multiple forms of expertise, and it demands the synthesis of multiple avenues of prior inquiry, each of which has evolved as a largely separate scientific agenda. The goal here is to weave these strands together. First, we must incorporate insights and recent advances from the growing field of emotion research, giving particular emphasis to those who probe the emotional texture of social relationships (e.g., Berscheid & Reis, 1998; Carstensen, Gottman, & Levensen, 1995; Carstensen, Graff, Levensen, & Gottman, 1996; Cassidy & Shaver, 1999;