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High blood pressure may lead to bad decisions and missed cues

Media Release

CLEMSON — Clemson researchers have found that higher blood pressure was associated with “emotional dampening,” Clemson psychologist Jim McCubbin’s theory of reduced ability to recognize anger, fear, joy or sadness in the faces of others.

People with this problem can seem a little insensitive, he said.

McCubbin and colleagues have been studying the inti­mate relationship between blood-pressure control mechanisms and brain control of emotions. Their findings suggest that people with significant emotional dampening may perceive lower threat so they may engage in those risky behaviors more frequently.

They also found that subjects with mildly high blood pressure who are at risk for hypertension did poorly at recognizing the emotional meaning in facial expressions and in written communications, such as texts and emails.

In complex social situations such as work, McCubbin said, people rely on facial expressions and verbal emotional cues to interact effectively with others. But with emotional dampening, people tend to miss those important cues.

“If your work supervisor is angry, you may think he or she is just kidding,” McCubbin said. “This can lead to miscommunica­tion, poor job performance and stress. If you have emotional dampening, you may distrust others because you can’t read emotional meaning in their faces or their verbal communications. You may even take more risks because you cannot fully grasp the threats in your environment.”

McCubbin’s theory of emotional dampening also applies to positive emotions.

“Damp­ening of positive emotions may rob you of the restorative benefits of close personal relations, vacations and hobbies,” he said.

In a new study published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, McCubbin and his colleagues studied 96 young adults with normal blood pressure and found dampened recognition of emotions in young men who may be at risk for high blood pressure later in life.  

“We found that the link between blood pressure and emotional dampening is a new phenomenon that is unrelated to previously known psychological traits,” said McCubbin. “In young adults, emotional dampening is more severe in men, but we have observed this in older women as well.”

The researchers say that these findings give us new insight into the early stages of hypertension development and its close relationship to the brain’s control of emotions.  These results also point to a new perspective for understanding the nature of human emotions and their effect on communication and decision-making.

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This material is based upon work supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense ASSURE Program under Grant No. SES-0353698, SES-0648946 and SMA-1004413. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the Department of Defense.



, Media Relations
February 5, 2014

Research