Both High and Low Levels of Negative Emotions Are Associated with Higher Blood Pressure: Evidence from Whitehall II Cohort Study
Previous studies of negative emotions and blood pressure (BP) produced mixed findings. Based on the functionalist and evolutionary perspective on emotions, we hypothesized that the association between negative emotions and BP is U-shaped, i.e., that both very high levels of negative emotions and the absence thereof are related to high BP.
Data from 7479 British civil servants who participated in Phases 1–11 (years 1985–2013) of the Whitehall II cohort study was used. Negative emotions were operationalized as negative affect and depressive and anxiety symptoms. Negative affect was measured at Phases 1 and 2. Anxiety and depressive symptoms were assessed at each phase. BP was measured at every other phase. For each negative emotion measure, an average across all phases was computed and used as a predictor of PB levels throughout the follow-up period using growth curve models.
Very high values of anxiety and depressive symptoms, but not negative affect, were associated with higher levels of systolic BP. However, low to moderate levels of all negative emotions were associated with lower blood pressure than the absence of negative emotions.
The article offers a theoretical explanation for a previously observed inverse association between negative emotions and blood pressure and underscores that moderate levels of negative emotions that naturally occur in everyday life are not associated with risks of heightened blood pressure.
KeywordsNegative emotions Anxiety Depression Blood pressure
This work was supported by a grant from the Danish Research Council (DFF 4183–00474) to ND.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
Statement of Informed Consent
The Whitehall II study is approved by the London-Harrow Research Ethics Committee and the Scotland Research Ethics Committee. All participants who had clinical examination were asked to give written informed consent.
- 4.Negative Emotions Can Increase the Risk of Heart Disease. Psychol. Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-athletes-way/201405/negative-emotions-can-increase-the-risk-heart-disease (accessed 10 Jan2019).
- 5.Many Emotions Can Damage the Heart. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/many-emotions-can-damage-heart#1 (accessed 10 Jan2019).
- 10.Hildrum B, Romild U, Holmen J. Anxiety and depression lowers blood pressure: 22-year follow-up of the population based HUNT study. Norway BMC Public Health. 2011;11:601.Google Scholar
- 13.Keltner D, Haidt J, Shiota MN. Social functionalism and the evolution of emotions. In: Evolution and social psychology. New York: Psychology Press; 2006. p. 115–42.Google Scholar
- 15.Rando TA. Treatment of complicated mourning. Champlian, IL: Research Press; 1993.Google Scholar
- 17.Zautra AJ. Emotions, stress, and health. New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press; 2003.Google Scholar
- 29.Goldberg DP. The detection of psychiatric illness by questionnaire. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1972.Google Scholar
- 31.Bradburn NM, Noll CE. The structure of psychological well-being. Chicago, IL: Aldine; 1969.Google Scholar