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Low Educational Attainment, John Henryism, and Cardiovascular Reactivity to and Recovery From Personally Relevant Stress

Merritt, Marcellus M. PhD; Bennett, Gary G. PhD; Williams, Redford B. MD; Sollers, , John J. III PhD, and; Thayer, Julian F. PhD

doi: 10.1097/01.PSY.0000107909.74904.3D

Objective The John Henryism hypothesis proposes that a high level of John Henryism (JH: high-effort coping with psychosocial demands) is predictive of hypertension at low but not high socioeconomic status (SES). The objectives of the present study were to determine whether high JH and low SES (education, income, job status, and job strain) were associated with increased cardiovascular responses to laboratory social stressors.

Methods Subjects were 58 normotensive, healthy black men age 23 to 47 years. The procedure included the completion of psychosocial questionnaires and participation in a psychophysiological reactivity protocol. The reactivity protocol involved the following experimental tasks and associated recovery periods: an active speech task and an anger recall task. Measures of systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), heart rate (HR), and rate pressure product (RPP) were obtained continuously using a Finapres beat-to-beat blood pressure monitor throughout the reactivity protocol.

Results At high JH, low (compared with high) education level was linked with higher DBP during anger recall and final recovery, higher SBP during final recovery, and higher HR and RPP during speech preparation and final recovery (p < .05). Among subjects with low education, high (vs. low) JH was associated with higher SBP, HR, and RPP during final recovery (p < .05).

Conclusions John Henryism may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease among people with low education by increased cardiovascular reactivity and prolonged recovery to stress.

Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (M.M.M., G.G.B., R.B.W.), Behavioral Medicine Research Center, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC; and Gerontological Research Center (J.J.S., J.F.T.), National Institute on Aging, Baltimore, MD.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Marcellus M. Merritt, PhD, Research Fellow, NIA/GRC/LPC, 5600 Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, MD 21224. E-mail:

Received for publication May 2, 2002; revision received August 15, 2003.

Supported by National Institute of Mental Health Training Research Grant #5T32 MH19109.

Copyright © 2004 by American Psychosomatic Society
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