Family history of hypertension is related to maladaptive behavioral responses

WASHINGTON Peoples risk for hypertension associated with having a parental history of hypertension may be influenced by observing how their parents handled stress, says researchers who examined relations among numerous behavioral responses and family history of hypertension. This study, reported on in the May issue of Health Psychology, finds that offspring of hypertensive parents react more negatively, both behaviorally and physiologically, to stressful situations.

The reason may in part be because certain behaviors, like conflict avoidance and inadequate expression of feelings, were part of their family environments and have been passed from generation to generation in hypertensive families, says lead author Nicole L. Frazer, Ph.D., and colleagues of West Virginia University. Those offspring who have hypertensive parents not only exhibit exaggerated physiological reactivity to stressors but also exhibit learned maladaptive behavioral responses to stressors, said Frazer.

The authors examined the behavioral responses, heart rate and blood pressure of 64 healthy college students who had parents with and without hypertension during stressful mental activities to explain the observed differences in cardiovascular reactivity to stress. The participants included 16 men and 16 women who had parents with hypertension (PH+) and 16 men and 16 women who had parents without hypertension (PH -). All the participants participated in a mental arithmetic task, a mirror tracing task, and two interpersonal role-plays to mimic stressful mental activities.

Both the males and the females in the PH + group had higher resting heart rates than the females and males in the PH group. Furthermore, those in the PH + group had their systolic blood pressure go up more during the mental tasks and they also reacted with more negative verbal and nonverbal behavior during both the interpersonal and non-interpersonal laboratory-induced stress tasks than the PH participan

Contact: Pam Willenz
American Psychological Association

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