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Psychosom Med. 1992 Jul-Aug;54(4):422-35.

Cardiovascular differentiation of emotions.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City.


This study examined the cardiovascular mechanisms governing differential blood pressure changes during the emotions of joy, sadness, fear, and anger. Heart rate, blood pressure, stroke volume, peripheral vascular resistance, cardiac output, and indices of myocardial contractility were measured during fear, anger, joy, sadness, physical action, and neutral imagery conditions in 27 right-handed male volunteers screened for imagery ability, alexithymia, anxiety, and depression. Anger imagery, rather than fear, was accompanied by the largest effects on the cardiovascular system. Increased diastolic blood pressure in anger was associated with maintained levels of peripheral vascular resistance and increased cardiac output and heart rate compared with changes during neutral imagery. Sadness produced a distinct pattern with moderate increases in blood pressure and vascular resistance and a decrease in cardiac output compared with changes during neutral imagery. Fear, action, and joy produced similar blood pressure changes in which systolic pressure increased and diastolic pressure was relatively unchanged. The measurement of cardiac output and determination of vascular resistance changes during emotional imagery demonstrate that previously observed emotion-specific blood pressure responses are produced by underlying patterns of cardiovascular activation, which differ between the major categories of emotions.

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