The role of angry rumination and distraction in blood pressure recovery from emotional arousal

Author(s): Gerin W, Davidson KW, Christenfeld NJ, Goyal T, Schwartz JE


Objective:Cardiovascular recovery of prestress baseline blood pressure has been implicated as a possible additional determinant of sustained blood pressure elevation. We hypothesize that angry ruminations may slow the recovery process.

Method:A within-subjects design was used in which resting baseline blood pressure and heart rate measurements were assessed on 60 subjects, who then took part in two anger-recall tasks. After each task, subjects sat quietly and alone during a 12-minute recovery period randomized to with or without distractions. During baseline, task, and recovery, blood pressure was continuously monitored; during recovery, subjects reported their thoughts at five fixed intervals.

Results:Fewer angry thoughts were reported in the distraction condition (17%) compared with no distraction (31%; p = .002); an interaction showed that this effect was largely the result of the two intervals immediately after the anger-recall task. Trait rumination interacted with distraction condition such that high ruminators in the no-distraction condition evidenced the poorest blood pressure recovery, assessed as area under the curve (p = .044 [systolic blood pressure] and p = .046 [diastolic pressure]).

Conclusions:People who have a tendency to ruminate about past anger-provoking events may be at greater risk for target organ damage as a result of sustained blood pressure elevations; the effect is exacerbated when distractions are not available to interrupt the ruminative process.

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