Hemodynamic adjustments to laboratory stress: the influence of gender and personality.

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Abstract

Exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity to psychological stress is a potential pathophysiological mechanism linking behavior and cardiovascular disease. Because of the recognized gender differences in incidence of cardiovascular disease, potential gender differences in cardiovascular reactivity to laboratory stressors have been evaluated. The current study examined the cardiovascular responses of a total of 42 young women (N = 22) and men (N = 20) undergoing a laboratory protocol including the following: a nonverbal math task, a mirror tracing task, the Stroop Color-Word interference task, and an isometric handgrip task. In addition to the assessment of heart rate and blood pressure, cardiac output, stroke volume, total peripheral resistance and preejection period were assessed by impedance cardiography. A number of personality characteristics that vary in prevalence by gender were also measured to evaluate their ability to explain potential gender differences in cardiovascular responses. Results indicated that men responded with greater total peripheral resistance and systolic and diastolic blood pressure responses than did women on a subset of tasks, whereas women exhibited larger increases in heart rate on a subset of tasks. Thus, men were more likely to be “vascular” reactors, with women being more likely to be “cardiac” reactors. Personality characteristics did differ between men and women, but did not explain significant variance in the gender differences in cardiovascular responses. We conclude that additional studies should focus on experimental manipulations of potential physiological mechanisms responsible for these differences, such as reproductive hormones.

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