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Blood Pressure, Emotional Dampening, and Risk Behavior

Implications for Hypertension Development

McCubbin, James A. PhD; Nathan, Aaron MS; Hibdon, Melissa A. BS; Castillo, Anastasia V. BS; Graham, Jack G. BS; Switzer, Fred S. III PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000598

Objective Elevated resting blood pressure (BP) is associated with risk for hypertension and emotional dampening, including reduced responses to emotionally meaningful stimuli. Perception of threat is a critical motivator in avoidance of risky health-damaging behavior. We hypothesize that BP-associated dampening of threat appraisal may increase risk-taking behavior.

Methods We measured resting BP, perception of affect, and risk behavior in 92 healthy women (n = 49) and men (n = 43) recruited from university students and staff as well as members of the surrounding community. Mean (SE) age for the sample was 21.5 (4.3) year. BP was measured using an automated BP monitor, and risk behavior was assessed with a modified National College Health Risk Behavior Survey. We also measured recognition of affect using the Perception of Affect Task (PAT).

Results Risk-taking behavior was positively correlated with both systolic (r(89) = .278, p = .008) and diastolic BP (r(89) = .309, p < .003). Regression analyses indicated that the association between risk-taking behavior and BP was not mediated by PAT scores.

Conclusions Results show that persons with higher resting BP levels report increased risk-taking behavior. PAT scores, while correlated with systolic BP, did not mediate the relationship between BP and risk. The relationship between BP and risk behavior reflects the potential involvement of central nervous system regulation of both BP and emotional responsivity, and its relationship to health-damaging behavior and risk for hypertension.

From the Departments of Psychology and Public Health Sciences (McCubbin), Clemson University, South Carolina; Center for Patient Safety Research, Brigham and Women's Hospital (Nathan), Boston, Massachusetts; Department of Psychology (Hibdon), Clemson University; University of South Carolina School of Medicine (Castillo), Columbia; Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University (Graham), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Department of Psychology (Switzer), Clemson University, South Carolina.

Address correspondence to James A. McCubbin, PhD, Department of Psychology, 319-A Brackett Hall, Clemson University, 321 Calhoun Dr, Clemson, SC 29634. E-mail:

Received for publication August 2, 2017; revision received March 26, 2018.

Copyright © 2018 by American Psychosomatic Society
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