Can Hostility Be Linked to Unhealthy Lungs?

Young adults with a short temper or mean disposition also tend to have compromised lung function, says a recent study published in the journal Health Psychology, by the American Psychological Association (APA). This occurred even when asthma and smoking were ruled out as possible causes of lung dysfunction.

In a study of 4,629 black and white 18-30 year olds from four metropolitan areas (sampled from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in (Young) Adults Study cohort (CARDIA), psychologists examined whether the tendency to be hostile went along with having decreased lung function in otherwise healthy young adults. The results indicated that the more hostile one’s personality—characterized by aggression or anger, for example—the lower levels one’s of lung function even after controlling for age, height, socioeconomic status, smoking status and presence of asthma.

People with higher levels of general frustration predicted statistically significant reductions in pulmonary function for black women, white women, and black men. The only marginally strong finding occurred among the white men sampled. The authors speculate that people in lower status roles, black women, white women, and black men, who display hostility (and may be pushing against social expectations), elicit stronger social consequences than white men, resulting in higher levels of internalized stress that can make them sick. Further research is required to rule out if environmental toxins such as air pollution may contribute to both higher hostility and lower lung function. Hostility was measured using the Cook-Medley Questionnaire which is derived from the items on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Pulmonary function was measured while participants were standing and wearing a nose clip, blowing into a machine to measure their lung capacity, which can indicate upper airway obstruction.

“Recent research demonstrates that greater hostility predicts lung function decline in older men. This is the first study of young adults to offer a detailed examination of the inverse link between hostility and pulmonary function,” states lead author and psychologist Benita Jackson PhD MPH, Smith College. “It’s remarkable to see reductions in lung function during a time of life we think of as healthy for most people. Right now, we can’t say if having a hostile personality causes lung function decline, though we now know that these things happen together. More research is needed to establish whether hostility is associated with change in pulmonary function during young adulthood.” This research has implications for future research exploring the possible influence of social status on personality functioning and pulmonary health.

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