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June 12, 2007

Anger Can Take Your Breath Away, Study Says

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – A short temper is linked to reduced lung capacity in young adults, says a new Smith College-led study, the first detailed investigation to link anger to pulmonary health in this age group.

Researchers found that the more hostile one’s personality – characterized by aggression or anger – the more their lung function was compromised. This occurred even when asthma and smoking were ruled out as possible causes of lung dysfunction, said lead researcher Benita S. Jackson, assistant professor of psychology at Smith.

“It’s remarkable to see reductions in lung function during a time of life we think of as healthy for most people,” said Jackson. “Even being a current smoker does not show the degree of association with pulmonary function in this relatively young, healthy sample.”

Working with faculty at Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Minnesota, Jackson examined data that was gathered by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute -- information on 4,629 men and women, ages 18 to 30, residing in four metropolitan areas. Their findings were published in the American Psychological Association’s May issue of "Health Psychology."

Regardless of race and gender, the researchers found higher levels of hostility were related to lower levels of pulmonary function. Surprisingly, however, white men registered the smallest changes in pulmonary function as compared to white women, black men and black women.

Although researchers did not have enough information to fully explain that finding, one reason may be connected to the social status of each demographic group, said Jackson. Behavior that is interpreted as hostile by lower status groups – white women, black men and women – may be viewed as markers of authority when carried out by white men, she noted.

Hostility was measured using a common psychological questionnaire. Pulmonary function – both upper airway obstructions and total lung volume – was assessed with equipment that included nose clips and an apparatus for measuring the amount and rate that air is breathed in and out over time.

Research has long documented the role of hostility in the development of major health outcomes, most notably cardiovascular disease.

And, seemingly small reductions in pulmonary function that appear during young adulthood may be amplified over time, Jackson said. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, for example, is a progressive and only partially reversible condition characterized by reduced airflow to the lungs.

But more research is needed to establish whether hostility in young adults has a long-term effect on pulmonary function and whether differences remain among the different demographic groups, she cautioned.

The study was supported by several organizations, including the MacArthur Foundation Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health; the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences; and the National Institute of Mental Health.

The other investigators included Laura D. Kubzansky, Harvard School of Public Health; Sheldon Cohen, Carnegie Mellon University Department of Psychology; David R. Jacobs, Jr., University of Minnesota School of Public Health; and Rosalind J. Wright, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from nearly every state and 61 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country.


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