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Is humor good for your health? Examining the associations of hostility and humor styles to resting blood pressure



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Researchers have examined psychosocial risk variables (e.g., hostility) related to high resting blood pressure (BP), with the majority of findings suggesting that hostility is associated with increased resting BP. Additionally, it has been proposed that constructive verbal anger expression is a protective factor for hypertension (Davidson, MacGregor, Stuhr, Dixon, & MacLean, 2000; Davidson, MacGregor, Stuhr, & Gidron, 1999), while others have hypothesized that humor promotes physical health (i.e., the humor-health hypothesis) (Martin, Puhlik-Doris, Larsen, Gray, & Weir, 2003; McClelland & Cheriff, 1997). The primary purpose of the present study is to examine the relations between hostility, humor styles, constructive verbal anger, and resting BP, with an emphasis on the humor-health hypothesis. One hundred and ninety nine undergraduate university participants had six resting blood pressure measurements taken at three-minute intervals. Participants then completed the following questionnaires online in a randomized order: Cook-Medley Hostility Scale (CMH), Constructive Anger Behaviour-Verbal Scale (CAV), Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ), and a health and demographic questionnaire. A series of hierarchical regressions were conducted to test the hypotheses with resting systolic BP (SBP) and resting diastolic BP (DBP). Two health and demographic variables, age and body mass index (BMI), were entered into step 1 of all the regressions analyzed as covariates. In step 2 of each regression model, the respective psychosocial variables were independently entered. Comparisons were conducted between the various psychosocial variables entered into step 2 to determine which variable accounts for the most unique variance in resting SBP and DBP. Small to moderate positive correlations were observed between age and resting BP, as well as BMI and resting BP. Regarding psychosocial variables, small positive correlations were observed between affiliative humor and resting SBP, and between self-enhancing humor and resting BP. Multiple regression analyses revealed that after controlling for age and BMI, adaptive humor styles uniquely predicted higher resting SBP, while no psychosocial variables predicted resting DBP. The present investigation provides evidence suggesting that psychosocial risk factors are not associated with resting BP while also contradicting the humor-health hypothesis, suggesting that adaptive humor is associated with increased resting BP.



Psychosocial predictors of resting blood pressure, hypertension, humor styles, humor health hypothesis, constructive verbal anger, hostility, BMI



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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