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Established and emerging personality constructs in behavioral cardiology : associations with resting blood pressure and cardiovascular responses to acute stress Habra, Martine E.


Studies have revealed associations between established psychosocial factors and cardiovascular health, but the magnitude of effects remains small, and findings are fraught with inconsistencies. Recently, several putative psychological risk factors for cardiovascular disease, namely social support seeking, sociotropy, and Type-D personality, defensiveness and sex roles, have been proposed to further elucidate the relationship between personality and disease. The purpose of the present study was to examine how such emerging constructs relate to laboratory indices of cardiovascular health compared to more established psychosocial risk factors, i.e., hostility and social support. 173 undergraduates (87 female, 86 male) completed a stress protocol involving a mental arithmetic task (serial subtractions of seven) while receiving scripted harassing comments. Blood pressure and heart rate were measured both prior to and during the stressful task. The relationships between personality and both resting and reactivity levels were examined. Reactivity was defined as the amount of change between resting blood pressure and heart rate levels and levels reached during the task. Contrary to prediction, hostility was associated with lower resting blood pressure, while social support was unrelated to cardiovascular responses. Emerging personality constructs demonstrated consistent associations with physiology. Masculinity was associated with lower resting heart rate [β = -.26, p < .01]. Support seeking was associated with less SBP reactivity to the task (r = -.15, g = .05). Sociotropy was related to dampened reactivity to stress [β = -.21, p < .05 for DBP; β = -.22, p < .05 for HR]. Males who reported greater social inhibition, a dimension of the Type-D personality, showed greater reactivity to the lab stressor [β = .41, p < .01 for SBP; β = .31, p < .05 for DBP]. Impression management was also associated with resting blood pressure, but gender differences in the pattern of associations were noted. Thus, the present results confirm the need to move away from global personality dimensions in order to explain better how personality can exert beneficial or deleterious effects on health. However, the direction o f results was not always consistent with our predictions, indicating that these specific personality constructs would benefit from further refinement.

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