The Autonomic Nervous System and Hypertension: Ethnic Differences and Psychosocial Factors

  • LaBarron K. Hill
  • Julian F. ThayerEmail author
Psychological Aspects of Cardiovascular Diseases (A Steptoe, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Psychological Aspects of Cardiovascular Diseases


Purpose of the Review

In the present paper, we overview emerging research examining the autonomic nervous system (ANS), especially the parasympathetic nervous system as indexed by heart rate variability (HRV), and the impact of psychosocial factors on hypertension-related disease in African Americans.

Recent Findings

A growing corpus of studies has shown that (1) usual patterns of compensatory sympathetic-parasympathetic regulation differ between African Americans and European Americans; (2) despite their enhanced cardiovascular disease risk profile, African Americans tend to exhibit higher HRV relative to European Americans; and (3) racial discrimination and other forms of psychosocial stress are associated with diminished HRV among African Americans.


Significant disparities in hypertension-related disease exist such that African Americans have greater risk. The underlying factors associated with this increased risk are, to date, not fully understood. The present review provides evidence for a unique pattern of ANS regulation in African Americans and shows that psychosocial factors such as racial discrimination may contribute to this paradoxical situation.


Hypertension Autonomic imbalance Heart rate variability Discrimination African Americans 


Funding Information

LaBarron K. Hill is supported by funding from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (#121708).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

LaBarron K. Hill and Julian F. Thayer declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article is based on published papers and does not contain any examination with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Center for Biobehavioral Health Disparities ResearchDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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