Hostility Hurts Your Heart!

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Here’s another psychological factor that can affect your physical health — hostility. 

Since the 1980’s, dozens of scientific studies have shown that people with chronic hostility & cynicism frequently develop cardiovascular illness (heart disease, high blood pressure and narrowing of the blood vessels). The evidence is clear: chronic hostility burdens the body — especially the heart & blood vessels. 

Hostility is “chronic hate and anger” — it’s an individual’s tendency to feel suspicion and mistrust of other people.  As one research paper says: "Hostility is typically defined as a negative attitude toward others and encompasses cynicism, anger, mistrust, and aggression".

Scientists commonly measure hostility using a psychological test called the Cook-Medley Hostility Scale. The usual version of this Scale has up to 50 questions, answered true or false. For example, here’s 3 questions from the Cook-Medley Hostility Scale.  

  • "I would certainly enjoy beating a crook at his own game."
  • "I have often met people who were supposed to be experts who were no better than I."
  • "When someone does me a wrong I feel I should pay him back if I can, just for the principle of the thing." 

Earliest studies of hostility involved mainly men, but more recent studies include women too. These studies confirm that women's health is also sensitive to chronic hostility. 

For example, 506 women in one study were evaluated for suspected coronary artery disease. During that evaluation, they took the Cook-Medley Hostility test to measure their levels of hostility and cynicism. 

Researchers then tracked the women’s health for the next 3 to 6 years. During that time, the women with higher scores for hostility were more likely to experience ‘adverse events’. (An ‘adverse event’ was defined as their death or hospitalization for angina, heart attack, stroke, heart failure or other vascular events.)

The half of the group who had higher hostility levels, were 35% more likely to have an ‘adverse event’ when compared with the half of of the group who had lower hostility levels.  

Another more recent study, published in 2019, followed the health of 15,000 women for 10 years. They were aged 50-79 years at enrolment. Their personality traits were measured, including their levels of hostility. All the women were diabetic. 

Researchers discovered that, after 10 years, the women who were measured in the top quarter of the group for hostility were at 22% greater risk to develop heart disease or stroke  when compared to women in the lowest quarter of the group.

Another study of 792 women showed similar findings. Their average age was 67 years, and all had a past history of heart disease. All completed the Cook-Medley Hostility scale. 

They were then followed for 4 years. Researchers discovered that the women who were in the group of highest hostility were twice as likely to have had a heart attack when compared to women in the lowest hostility group. 

Researchers emphasized that this relation between hostility and heart disease couldn’t be accounted for by other biological, behavioural, or social factors.  Hostility was found to be an independent risk factor for recurrent coronary heart disease in postmenopausal women.


See the 'abstract' summaries of these scientific papers: