In today’s turbulent political climate, hostility is becoming an increasingly familiar part of everyday life. This negative environment not only makes it uncomfortable to socialize, but prolonged, cynical hostility may pose a serious health issue.

According to a Baylor University-led study that appeared in the September 2020 issue of Psychophysiology, cynical hostility may cause an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The findings resulted from data collected from 196 participants in a stress test conducted by the Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity, and Disease at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.

Participants took part in two lab sessions, 7 weeks apart. Sessions consisted of establishing a 20-minute baseline and a 15-minute psychological stress test.

Researchers recorded each person’s heart rate and blood pressure, and the participants completed a standard psychological scale to determine their personality and temperament.

The sessions involved placing participants in reasonably stressful situations, for example, asking them to take 5 minutes to prepare and then deliver a speech defending themselves from traffic violations or shoplifting accusations. All participants knew that the researchers would record and evaluate them.

As Alexandra T. Tyra, a doctoral candidate in psychology and neuroscience and the lead study author, explains, “These methods of social and self-evaluation are designed to increase the experience of stress and have been validated in prior research.”

Tyra’s team looked at three types of hostility: cognitive, which includes cynical hostility; emotional hostility, which links to chronic anger; and behavioral hostility, which involves verbal and physical aggression.

The researchers found that stress responses had no relationship to emotional or behavioral hostility.

“This does not imply that emotional and behavioral hostility are not bad for you,” says Tyra, “just that they may affect your health or well-being in other ways.”

Timely findings

Following the study, the Baylor University team believes the outcome of its research is very timely. It comes near the end of a year of extremes, dominated end-to-end by intense political debates and social commentary.

Some might find it natural to approach each adverse circumstance with excessive cynical hostility. However, these harsh stances might not be worth the added risk to a person’s cardiovascular health. With this in mind, the study authors offer a word of caution:

“Perhaps the next time someone thinks a negative thought about the motives, intentions or trustworthiness of their best friend, a co-worker or even a politician, they will think twice about actively engaging with that thought.”

Even as they weigh the immediate implications of their research, the study team hopes that future research will give more insight into how cynical hostility affects one’s health across an entire life span. What can we learn from following more cynically hostile test participants as they age?

For now, a crucial takeaway of this study, especially in such a tense political climate, is to keep an open mind and a cool head.

Medical reference: Medical News Today