Highly competitive, dominant men and women who try to exert control and influence in their interactions with others experience sharp blood pressure reactions that may be relevant to risk of cardiovascular disease, new research has found.
Persons exposed to such dominant behavior also have similar cardiovascular reactions, according to Tamara L. Newton, PhD, of the Boston Veterans Administration Medical Center and her colleagues, writing in the March issue of Psychophysiology.
The scientists measured the heart rate and blood pressure of 34 men and 34 women college undergraduates in previously unacquainted male-female pairs who negotiated their points of view on three different topics: how to improve social life on campus, how to resolve conflicts with roommates, and how to improve dining hall meals.
The topics were designed to activate the pushiness of the dominant individuals, who had been identified as such through use of personality questionnaires.
Dominant men and women both exhibited high cardiovascular reactivity during the silent preparation periods preceding the interactions, but only the dominant men showed high reactivity while actually trying to reach agreement on the discussion topics.
In both cases, the dominant men and women appeared to be responding to gender norms, the scientists say. Dominant men's tendencies to influence and control responded to male gender role norms, but the dominant women also responded to their gender role norms by deactivating their dominant traits in a mixed-gender situation.
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