Situational determinants of cardiovascular and emotional reactivity in high and low hostile men.
Various epidemiologic studies have found that high scores on the Cook and Medley Hostility (Ho) scale are associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), severity of atherosclerosis, and all-cause mortality. One plausible biological mechanism suspected of contributing to increased risk of CHD is sympathetic nervous system-mediated hyperresponsivity to environmental stressors. The present study evaluated cardiovascular reactivity among young men with high versus low Ho scores during performance of an anagram task with or without harassment. Compared to performing the task alone, harassment led to increased cardiovascular arousal that was more pronounced for the high Ho subjects than the low Ho subjects. Moreover, harassment produced increases in self-rated anger, irritation, and tension, but it was only among those subjects with high Ho scores that increased anger and irritation were associated with enhanced cardiovascular arousal. While suggesting a role for anger- and irritation-induced cardiovascular arousal in pathogenesis of CHD, these findings indicate that situation characteristics mediate the relationship between Ho scores and cardiovascular reactivity, and that there may be a differential biological link between anger/irritation and cardiovascular responses in men with high and low Ho scores.
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