Being hostile and cynical increases the risk of heart problems, research finds.
Cynical people tend to be distrustful of the nature and motives of others and believe they are motivated only by self-interest.
Cynicism is also linked to pessimism and being contemptuous.
While hostility has long been linked to heart problems, this is one of the first studies to link it to being cynical.
The study, which included 196 people, looked at three different types of hostility: emotional, behavioural and cognitive.
Ms Alexandra T. Tyra, the study’s first author, explained:
“Cynical hostility is more cognitive, consisting of negative beliefs, thoughts and attitudes about other people’s motives, intentions and trustworthiness.
It can be considered suspiciousness, lack of trust or cynical beliefs about others.
These findings reveal that a greater tendency to engage in cynical hostility—which appears to be extremely relevant in today’s political and health climate—can be harmful not only for our short-term stress responses but also our long-term health.”
Meanwhile, behavioural hostility manifests as verbal or physical aggression and emotional hostility as chronic anger.
Under healthy circumstances, people get used to stressors and adapt to them.
Ms Tyra explained:
“Essentially, when you’re exposed to the same thing multiple times, the novelty of that situation wears off, and you don’t have as big of a response as you did the first time.
This is a healthy response. But our study demonstrates that a higher tendency for cynical hostility may prevent or inhibit this decrease in response over time.
In other words, the cardiovascular system responds similarly to a second stressor as it did to the first.
This is unhealthy because it places increased strain on our cardiovascular system over time.”
The people in the study were given personality tests along with a test of their stress response.
The results showed that neither emotional nor behavioural hostility were linked to a higher stress response.
Ms Tyra said:
“This does not imply that emotional and behavioral hostility are not bad for you, just that they may affect your health or well-being in other ways.”
However, people with greater cynical hostility had a high and sustained stress response.
Ms Tyra said:
“I would hope that this research raises awareness about the potential health implications of cynicism.
Perhaps the next time someone thinks a negative thought about the motives, intentions or trustworthiness of their best friend, a co-worker or even a politician, they will think twice about actively engaging with that thought.”
The study was published in the journal Psychophysiology (Tyra et al., 2020).