Emotional reactivity, defensiveness, and ambulatory cardiovascular response at work

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Objective: To examine whether individual differences in dispositional emotional reactivity (ER), denoting a proneness to sustained emotional arousal in the face of stressful events, are associated with tension arousal and cardiovascular (CV) response at work, and whether this association is modified by defensive coping. Method: Eighty-two male normotensive industrial workers participated in the study. ER was measured by the Emotional Reactivity Scale (Melamed, 1994). Defensive coping was identified by high scores on the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale. Ambulatory blood pressure (BP) was recorded concurrently with tension feelings during a typical workday. Results: ER was positively associated with systolic BP (p = .04) and diastolic BP (p = .0009) response at work, whereas defensiveness was negatively associated with both systolic BP [p = .0001) and diastolic BP (p = .04) response. This was true even after controlling for several potent determinants of ambulatory BP. No interactive effect was found between ER and defensiveness on BP response at work. High emotional reactives (ERS) had a higher proportion of tension reports during work than low ERS (p <.0001); this also applied to low defensive compared to high defensive individuals (p<.0001). ER and defensiveness interacted to affect baseline (clinic) diastolic BP. The lowest values were observed in true low (nondefensive) emotional reactives (ERS). Defensive/low ERS (repressors) had elevated BP, similar to the high (nondefensive)/ERS. Defensive/high ERS had an intermediate BP level. Conclusions: Both high ER and low defensiveness were independently shown to be effective in identifying persons who might display recurrent tension arousal and pressure responses at work as well as high baseline BP values. When considering both baseline and ambulatory BP values, nondefensive/high ERS appear to be at greatest CV risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)500-507
Number of pages8
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1996


  • ambulatory blood pressure
  • defensiveness
  • emotional reactivity
  • sympathetic nervous system


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