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To investigate the relationship between the behavioural characteristics and specified subgroups of patients with essential hypertension.Fifty-four patients were classified into groups with a high (n = 9), normal (n = 35) or low plasma renin activity (n = 10), and were compared with 20 normotensive subjects by psychological tests. Standardized tests were used to measure anger expression, defensiveness and the subjects' psychological status (e.g. anxiety, depression).A repressive coping style, defined by a high defensiveness and low anxiety levels, was found significantly more often in patients with low than in patients with high plasma renin activity and normotensive subjects. The patients with high plasma renin activity scored significantly higher on suppressed anger, anxiety and interpersonal sensitivity than did those with low plasma renin activity. The scores of the normal plasma renin activity group were similar to those of the normotensive group.The results underline that there is not one hypertensive ‘personality’. Whereas the patients with a high plasma renin activity appear to be more susceptible to emotional conflicts, the patients with low plasma renin activity report low emotional distress and maintain an apparently well-adjusted facade.