Heart health has something to do with attitude, according to a new Baylor University study on stress and cardiovascular disease.
The most deadly attitude is “cynical hostility,” according to the study, which was published in the journal Psychophysiology.
That carrying a hostile attitude increases the risk for heart disease already was known. The new information from the Baylor study concerns various types of hostility — emotional, behavioral and cognitive.
“Cynical hostility is more cognitive, consisting of negative beliefs, thoughts and attitudes about other people’s motives, intentions and trustworthiness,” said lead author Alexandra Tyra, a doctoral candidate in psychology and neuroscience at Baylor. “It can be considered suspiciousness, lack of trust or cynical beliefs about others.
“These findings reveal that a greater tendency to engage in cynical hostility — which appears to be extremely relevant in today’s political and health climate — can be harmful not only for our short-term stress responses but also our long-term health,” she said.
In contrast to cynical hostility, chronic anger is considered emotional hostility, while verbal or physical aggression is considered behavioral hostility.
A healthy cardiovascular response to repeated stress would anticipate an increase in arousal to the first stress exposure — sometimes referred to as “fight or flight” — which would decrease upon subsequent exposures to that same stressor.
“Essentially, when you’re exposed to the same thing multiple times, the novelty of that situation wears off, and you don’t have as big a response as you did the first time,” Tyra said. “This is a healthy response. But our study demonstrates that a higher tendency for cynical hostility may prevent or inhibit this decrease in response over time. In other words, the cardiovascular system responds similarly to a second stressor as it did to the first.
“This is unhealthy because it places increased strain on our cardiovascular system over time.”