Being cynical isn’t just an unpleasant trait, it can also seriously damage your health, a new study has suggested.
‘Cynical hostility’ can potentially lead to heart disease, by preventing people having a healthy response to stress, according to researchers at Baylor University.
Very cynical people tend not to be able to manage their response to stress, which can lead to heart problems, the researchers warned.
Lead author Alexandra T Tyra, a PhD candidate in psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, said: “Cynical hostility is cognitive, consisting of negative beliefs, thoughts and attitudes about other people’s motives, intentions and trustworthiness.
“It can be considered suspiciousness, lack of trust or cynical beliefs about others.
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“These findings reveal that a greater tendency to engage in cynical hostility (which appears to be extremely relevant in today’s political and health climate) can be harmful not only for our short-term stress responses but also our long-term health.”
The research was published in the journal Psychophysiology.
Researchers conducted stress tests with 196 participants, monitoring their heart rate and blood pressure in tests designed to cause stress.
The volunteers also complete questionnaires to measure their levels of cynicism and chronic hate.
Hostility is associated with a long-term risk of cardiovascular disease, so researchers compared cynical hostility to chronic anger (emotional hostility) and verbal or physical aggression (behavioural hostility).
The researchers found that cynical hostility poses the greatest risk.
Tyra said, “The increased risk of hostility is likely due to heightened physiological arousal to psychological stress, which can strain the cardiovascular system over time.
“However, there has been a need for research to examine these physiological responses across multiple stress exposures to better resemble real-world conditions and assess adaptation over time.”
Cynical hostility means that people’s cardiovascular systems don’t respond properly to stress.
Over time, this can lead to real physical harm, the researchers say.
A healthy cardiovascular response to repeated stress would consist of an increase in arousal to the first stress exposure – sometimes referred to as “fight or flight”.
In healthy people, this diminishes with each exposure.
People with a tendency for cynical hostility don’t have this decrease, the researchers said.
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Tyra said: “Essentially, when you’re exposed to the same thing multiple times, the novelty of that situation wears off, and you don’t have as big of a response as you did the first time.
“This is a healthy response. But our study demonstrates that a higher tendency for cynical hostility may prevent or inhibit this decrease in response over time.
“In other words, the cardiovascular system responds similarly to a second stressor as it did to the first.
“This is unhealthy because it places increased strain on our cardiovascular system over time.”
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