University of Montreal study on physiological responses to stress
and gender play a major role in how people respond to stress,
according to a new study on 20-to-64-year-olds. Published
in the journal Psychophysiology, the investigation
was led by scientists from the Université de Montréal and
the Montreal Heart Institute in collaboration with colleagues
from the Université du Québec à Montréal and McGill University.
March 23, 2010 –
suggest that women who are more defensive are at increased cardiovascular
risk, whereas low defensiveness appears to damage the health of
older men," says Bianca D'Antono, a professor at the Université
de Montréal Department of Psychiatry and a Montreal Heart Institute
is a trait characterized by avoidance, denial or repression of
information perceived as threatening. In women, a strong defensive
reaction to judgment from others or a threat to self-esteem will
result in high blood pressure and heart rate. Contrarily, older
men with low defensive reactions have a higher cardiovascular
was conducted on 81 healthy working men and 118 women. According
to Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif a Université de Montréal professor and
Montreal Heart Institute researcher, the physiological response
to stress in women and older men is linked to this desire of maintaining
self-esteem and securing social bonds.
of belonging is a basic human need," says D'Antono. "Our findings
suggest that socialization is innate and that belonging to a group
contributed to the survival of our ancestors. Today, it is possible
that most people view social exclusion as a threat to their existence.
A strong defensive reaction is useful to maintain one's self-esteem
faced with this potential threat."
As part of
the experiment, participants completed four tasks of varying stress
levels. The first task involved reading a neutral text on Antarctica's
geography before a person of the same sex. The second and third
tasks involved role-playing in which participants followed a script
where they were sometimes agreeable and sometimes aggressive.
The final task involved a non-scripted debate on abortion.
and blood pressure were measured during each of these tasks as
was the level of cortisol in saliva. Results showed that women
and older men had elevated cardiovascular, autonomic and endocrine
responses to stress – all potentially damaging to their health.
The research team cautions, however, that more studies are needed
to evaluate the long-term effects of defensiveness and its association
to stress response patterns in disease development.
This study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health
Research and the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.
About the Université de Montréal: www.umontreal.ca/english
About the Montreal Heart Institute: http://www.icm-mhi.org/