Trait Negative Affect: Toward an Integrated Model of Understanding Psychological Risk for Impairment in Cardiac Autonomic Function

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Objective:To assess depression, anxiety, and anger as well as the variance that these emotions share (conceptualized as negative affect) in relationship to high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV), a specific indicator of parasympathetic cardiac autonomic function related to premature cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Although individual trait negative emotions have been studied in relation to risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) as well as biological mechanisms leading to CHD end points (e.g., autonomic nervous system [ANS] dysfunction), the degree to which a general tendency to experience negative emotions may account for these relations is not known.Methods:The sample included 653 community volunteers (51.0% female; 15.8% Black) aged 30 to 54 years (mean ± standard deviation = 43.8 ± 7.1 years). Latent constructs of depression, anxiety, and anger were each measured by three scales from well-validated self-report questionnaires. Resting HF-HRV was derived from 5-minute segments of continuous electrocadiographs recorded during both unpaced and paced respiration conditions.Results:Structural equation models (SEM) of the individual trait emotions showed depression and anxiety related inversely to HF-HRV and anger unrelated to HF-HRV. SEM also showed negative affect related inversely to HF-HRV. All associations were present after covariate adjustment for traditional cardiovascular risk factors, including age, sex, race, education, body mass index, smoking status, and blood pressure.Conclusions:Negative affect as a common pathway between depression, anxiety, and anger and impairments in cardiac autonomic function was supported, suggesting negative affect may be the unifying and potentially toxic element linking individual trait negative emotions to ANS dysregulation.[]

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