Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 326-332

First online:

Anger inhibition, cardiovascular recovery, and vagal function: A model of the link between hostility and cardiovascular disease

  • Jos F. BrosschotAffiliated withUniversity of Amsterdam
  • , Julian F. ThayerAffiliated withUniversity of Missouri

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A model of the association between hostility and cardiovascular disease (CVD) is proposed based upon anger inhibition, slow cardiovascular recovery, and low parasympathetic activity (vagal tone). This model is opposed to the more conventional model that emphasizes anger expression, cardiovascular reactivity, and high sympathetic tone. We argue that in social reality, incidences of anger inhibition outnumber incidences of anger expression to a great extent, irrespective of preferred expression style. Moreover, slow cardiovascular recovery, rather than high reactivity, may be the mechanism underlying the CVD risk associated with anger inhibition. Both anger inhibition and slow cardiovascular recovery are associated with a persistently low vagal tone. Thus, the anger inhibition/vagal inhibition model seems more consistent with the actual nature of anger in daily life and with the known cardiovascular control mechanisms. The model may better account for the chronic pathophysiological state that is believed to lead to CVD. Importantly, an experimental inhibition/recovery paradigm might also allow to test potential behavioral and cognitive accelerators of cardiovascular recovery. As an example of an important socially-mediated health risk that may be elucidated using the anger inhibition/vagal inhibition model, we discuss Black-White differences that have been found in CVD.