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Hostile Power Seekers May Have Increased Risk for Heart Disease

Researchers from the University of Utah have determined that aggressive power-seekers may have a shortened life because of increased vulnerability to cardiovascular disease.

The personality type, described by doing whatever it takes to climb the social ladder and gain power, is vividly represented by Frank Underwood on House of Cards. Sadly, the characterization is not uncommon in American society.

Timothy W. Smith and colleagues at the University of Utah have better news for successful types who are friendlier: Attaining higher social status as the result of prestige and freely given respect may have protective health effects

Smith presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society.

In the research, four studies were performed to gauge the health effects of the hostile-dominant personality style compared with the warm-dominant style.

In surveys with 500 undergraduate volunteers, hostile-dominant types reported greater hostility and interpersonal stress.

Warm-dominant types tended to rank themselves as higher in social status. Both styles were associated with a higher personal sense of power.

The psychologists also monitored the blood pressure of 180 undergraduates as they reacted to stressful conversations with others who were scripted to act deferentially or dominantly.

Hostile-dominant types experienced significant increases in blood pressure when interacting with a dominant partner, but not with a deferential one. The finding corresponds to prior research which has found that increased blood pressure reactivity to stress puts people at risk for cardiovascular disease.

In a third study with 94 young, married couples, Smith and colleagues found that hostile-dominance in men was linked with higher blood pressure recorded throughout the day with a wearable monitor, but not among women. Warm-dominance in women predicted lower blood pressure, but not in men.

Among 154 older, married couples (average age of 63), a warm-dominant style was associated with less conflict and more support. A hostile-dominant style was associated with more severe atherosclerosis in men and women, as measured by coronary artery calcification. Hostile-dominance was also linked with greater marital conflict and lower marital support.

“It’s not a style that wears well with other people,” Smith says. The good news is that people can take steps to change a hostile personality style.

“Something usually has to fall apart first before they are willing to entertain that option,” Smith says.

“But there is some evidence that it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks, and if you do, it can reduce coronary risk.”

Source: University of Utah

Hostile Power Seekers May Have Increased Risk for Heart Disease

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Hostile Power Seekers May Have Increased Risk for Heart Disease. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 20 Mar 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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