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.
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).
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.
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.