Agency, Communion, and Cardiovascular Reactivity During Marital Interaction

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Abstract

The concepts of agency and communion have been used to describe sex differences in vulnerability to specific stressor domains. This study examined blood pressure and heart rate responses of 60 married couples to experimental manipulations of disagreement (i.e., communion stressor) and achievement challenge (i.e., agency stressor). Consistent with predictions, disagreement elicited heightened cardiovascular reactivity among wives, but not husbands. In contrast, the achievement challenge elicited heightened cardiovascular reactivity among husbands, but not wives. Participants' responses to a circumplex measure of interpersonal appraisal were consistent with the interpretation of differential responses to agency and communion stressors. Results are congruent with a situational approach to sex differences in cardiovascular reactivity and illustrate the utility of interpersonal methods in the explication of psychosocial risk for cardiovascular disease.

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