Risky Family Processes Prospectively Forecast Shorter Telomere Length Mediated Through Negative Emotions

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Objective: This study was designed to examine prospective associations of risky family environments with subsequent levels of negative emotions and peripheral blood mononuclear cell telomere length (TL), a marker of cellular aging. A second purpose was to determine whether negative emotions mediate the hypothesized link between risky family processes and diminished telomere length. Method: Participants were 293 adolescents (age 17 years at the first assessment) and their primary caregivers. Caregivers provided data on risky family processes when the youths were age 17 years, youths reported their negative emotions at age 18 years, and youths’ TL was assayed from a blood sample at age 22 years. Results: The results revealed that (a) risky family processes forecast heightened negative emotions (β = .316, p < .001) and diminished TL (β = −.199, p = .003) among youths, (b) higher levels of negative emotions forecast shorter TL (β = −.187, p = .012), and (c) negative emotions served as a mediator connecting risky family processes with diminished TL (indirect effect = −0.012, 95% CI [−0.036, −0.002]). Conclusions: These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that risky family processes presage premature cellular aging through effects on negative emotions, with potential implications for lifelong health.

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