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How stressed do you get?: A negative personality constellation is associated with higher feelings of stress but lower blood pressure, heart rate, and hormone responses to stressful experiences

Bibbey, Adam (2013) How stressed do you get?: A negative personality constellation is associated with higher feelings of stress but lower blood pressure, heart rate, and hormone responses to stressful experiences. In: University of Birmingham Graduate School Research Poster Conference 2013 , 12th June 2013, University of Birmingham. (Unpublished)



An individual’s personality is often seen to be composed of varying levels of positive and negative characteristics; these can in turn influence numerous aspects including how we respond to mental stress. Exaggerated cardiovascular reactions, namely heart rate and blood pressure responses, have been associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure) and further cardiovascular disease outcomes. Similarly, exaggerated cortisol (a hormone released during stress) reactivity has been associated with anti-social disorders and increased disease susceptibility. Recent research, however, demonstrates low reactivity is associated with a range of adverse outcomes including depression, substance addiction, and disordered eating. Given the detrimental health and behavioural associations, the aim of the present study was to determine whether different personality traits affect how we perceive and biologically respond to a stressful experience.

352 middle aged Dutch men and women were exposed to three tasks designed to create mental stress; Stroop task (color-word conflict challenge), mirror tracing (a star had to be traced that could only be seen in mirror image), and a speech task (defending themselves against a shoplifting allegation). Heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol were measured at rest and in response to the stressful experiences. Individuals subsequently completed the Big Five Inventory to assess their levels of five key personality traits: 1 negative trait- neuroticism (tendency to experience negative emotions), and 4 positive traits- agreeableness (willingness to be helpful and social towards others), openness to experience (tendency to be creative and imaginative), extraversion (inclination to be energetic and sociable), and conscientiousness (related to high determination and self-discipline).

Those scoring higher in neuroticism actually demonstrated lower heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol stress responses, despite reporting greater perceptions of task stressfulness and difficulty, and lower feelings of control. Conversely, individuals who were more agreeable and open had greater heart rate and cortisol reactions, despite more open individuals reporting greater control and lower levels of stressfulness and difficulty.

These results suggest that the level of stress we may actually feel is not always reflected in our physical responses. A possible reason for this is because over time, if we consistently report greater stressfulness levels such as those individuals with high neuroticism, the body may actually adapt to respond less; a process known as allostatic load. Accordingly, this may protect the individual from the harmful consequences of exaggerated physical responses which have been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and their related deaths. Conversely, it would appear that those with a negative set of personality traits, i.e. high neuroticism, and low agreeableness and openness, demonstrate lower biological stress responses. These findings further support a growing body of evidence which suggests that blunted stress reactivity may be maladaptive, and possibly reflect emotional and motivational dysregulation in the brain. The results suggest it may be possible to identify individuals characterised by a personality profile which renders individuals vulnerable to adverse health and behavioral outcomes, thus allowing individual support to be provided to prevent such negative consequences. Future research aims to determine additional health and behavioural outcomes which may be characterised by this blunted stress reactivity.

Type of Work:Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Life & Environmental Sciences
Department:School of Sport and Exercise Sciences
Additional Information:

Research Supervisors: Dr Anna Phillips, Professor Douglas Carroll

Date:June 2013
Series/Collection Name:Prizewinners from the Graduate School Research Poster Conference 2013
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Q Science > QP Physiology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Related URLs:
Funders:Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Copyright Status:This poster is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this poster must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged.
Copyright Holders:The Author
ID Code:1739

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