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The role of hostility in cardiovascular stress responses

Researchers at the University of Utah recently investigated whether people who tend to be hostile react to stressful marital interactions with a greater increase in cardiovascular stress responses than do people who do not tend to be hostile. Cardiovascular stress responses include heart rate and blood pressure.

In the study, sixty couples participated in discussions in which they either agreed or disagreed with each other while facing either low or high evaluative threat. Under low evaluative threat, they were told that their discussions would be recorded but just to check the clarity and volume of their speech. Under conditions of high evaluative threat, they were told that their discussions would be recorded to determine the level of verbal intelligence evident in their discussions.

When evaluative threat was high, hostility was associated with higher systolic blood pressure in husbands. For wives, however, hostility was not related to cardiovascular stress responses. Although, when wives disagreed with their hostile husbands, they responded with increases in heart rate.

The researchers suggest that hostility may make a difference for husbands but not for wives because of efforts by husbands to assert dominance in marital interactions.

Source: Smith, T. W., & Gallo, L. C. (1999). Hostility and cardiovascular reactivity during marital interaction. Psychosomatic Medicine, 61, 436-445.

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