Hostility is becoming an increasingly common part of daily life in the tumultuous political environment of today. Not only does this negative atmosphere make socializing unpleasant, but prolonged, pessimistic animosity can pose a serious health problem.
Cynical hostility may cause an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to a study led by Baylor University that appeared in the September 2020 issue of Psychophysiology.
The results were obtained from data collected from 196 participants in a stress test performed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA by the Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity, and Disease.
Two lab sessions, 7 weeks apart were attended by participants. Sessions consisted of setting a baseline of 20 minutes and a psychological stress test of 15 minutes.
Researchers registered the heart rate and blood pressure of each person, and to assess their personality and temperament, the participants completed a standard psychological scale.
For example, the sessions included putting participants in relatively stressful scenarios, asking them to take 5 minutes to plan and then give a speech defending themselves from traffic violations or allegations of shoplifting. All the participants understood that they would be recorded and evaluated by the researchers.
As Alexandra T. Tyra, a psychology and neuroscience doctoral candidate and lead study author, states, “These social and self-assessment methods are designed to increase stress experience and have been validated in previous research.”
Tyra’s team looked at three types of hostility: cognitive, including cynical hostility; emotional hostility, related to persistent anger; and behavioral hostility, including verbal and physical violence.
The researchers found that there was no connection to emotional or behavioral aggression in stress responses.
“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.”
The prolonged harm of cynical hostility
The effect of cognitive hostility on the cardiovascular system essentially comes down to how a person deals with repeated stress-causing exposure.
Tyra explains how a normal reaction to repetitive stress typically plays out The novelty of that situation wears off when you are exposed to the same thing several times, and you don’t have as big a response as you did the first time.” This is a safe reaction to stress.
With cynical hostility, a person continues to respond with a similar level of intensity to stressful circumstances, no matter how much exposure they have to similarly stressful situations.
Consistent enthusiasm of this type creates a strain over time on the cardiovascular system.
The study by Baylor University is the latest of its kind to associate cynicism with adverse health issues. A 2014 study published in Neurology found that those with higher levels of pessimistic distrust may be more likely to experience dementia in later life.
The author of the research, Anna-Maija Tolppanen, Ph.D., from the University of Eastern Finland at Kuopio, claimed that the results of her team showed that a person’s “view of life and personality may have an effect on their health.”
While the damage caused by cynicism and negative thinking is more widely proven, some researchers aim to find a positive outcome for less positive mindsets.
One such study looked especially at pessimism. The study indicated that “defensive pessimism” in the face of the worst possible outcome may be useful for creating actionable strategies.
Still, studies have consistently associated suspicious thoughts with poor health and a hostile disposition.
The Baylor University team claims that the outcome of its research is very timely, following the report. It comes close to the end of a year of extremes, characterized by intense political discussions and social criticism end-to-end.
Many might find it natural to approach each detrimental circumstance with excessive cynical hostility. However the increased danger to the cardiovascular health of an individual may not be worth these harsh stances. The study authors give a word of warning with this in mind:
“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.”
The study team hopes that future studies will provide more insight into how cynical animosity affects one’s wellbeing over an entire life span, even as they weigh the immediate consequences of their research. From following more cynically aggressive test participants as they mature, what do we learn?
For now, maintaining an open mind and a calm head is a key takeaway from this report, especially in such a volatile political environment.