Blood pressure reactivity and marital distress in employed women.
OBJECTIVE: The impact of marital distress on cardiovascular responses to an "ecologically valid" laboratory stressor (a marital conflict recall task) was examined in maritally distressed and non-distressed women. It was hypothesized that the presence of high levels of marital distress would be associated with elevated blood pressure and heart rate responses to a marital conflict task. METHOD: Fifty married, employed women, aged 25-45, were recruited into high and low marital distress groups, based on total scores on the Dyadic Adjustment Scale. Subjects participated in three laboratory stress tasks: a marital conflict recall task, a work conflict recall task, and a serial subtraction task. RESULTS: During the marital conflict recall task, women characterized as high in marital distress exhibited higher systolic blood pressure (M = 21.4 +/- 9.1 vs. 17.3 +/- 7.7) (p < .05) and heart rate (M = 13.6 +/- 9.5 vs. 10.9 +/- 6.5) (p < .01) responses, compared with low-distress women. However, the association between marital distress and cardiovascular response was statistically significant only after aggregate responses to the control stressors were used as covariates. CONCLUSION: These data indicate that the stress associated with recalling a marital conflict was manifest in elevated blood pressure and heart rate, particularly among women characterized as experiencing high levels of distress in their marriage. Future research is needed to determine whether the blood pressure differences between women who are satisfied with their marriage, versus those that are chronically distressed are clinically meaningful. In addition, examination of the "ecological validity" of laboratory stressors suggests that a useful methodology may be to assess task responses, while controlling for nonspecific individual differences in cardiovascular reactivity.
Carels, RA; Szczepanski, R; Blumenthal, JA; Sherwood, A
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