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Health Psychol. 1988;7(5):447-59.

Cynical hostility and vulnerability to disease: social support, life stress, and physiological response to conflict.

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Department of Psychology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City 84112.


Previous research has indicated that high scores on the Cook and Medley Hostility (Ho) scale are associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease and other illness. Our study attempts to clarify this relationship by providing additional evidence concerning the construct assessed by the Ho scale, examining the level of physiological reactivity during interpersonal conflict in high- and low-Ho groups, and assessing the psychosocial profile associated with this characteristic. Extremely high and low Ho groups were selected from a pool of male undergraduates. Consistent with previous findings, high-Ho participants reported greater anger proneness and a more cynical, disparaging view of others than did low-Ho participants. The high-Ho group also tended to be more hostile and less friendly during role-played interactions involving high and low levels of interpersonal conflict, respectively. High-Ho persons also displayed greater diastolic blood pressure reactivity during interpersonal conflict. Finally, the high-Ho group reported less social support and more negative life events and daily irritants then did the low-Ho group. These results support the interpretation of the Ho scale as a measure of cynical hostility and are consistent with the hypothesis that it is related to disease by way of excessive physiological reactivity and a generally stressful, unsupportive social network.

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