Do you naturally see the good in people? Or are you more pessimistic when it comes to trusting others? There’s nothing wrong with exercising a little bit of caution around new acquaintances, but a new study just released by Baylor University makes a compelling case for us all to be more optimistic about the people in our lives.
Researchers say that if you’re constantly suspicious of and cynical about other people, you may be creating a new potential pathway toward cardiovascular disease.
More specifically, this “cynical hostility” toward others makes it harder for one’s body to mount a healthy response to stress over time.
“Cynical hostility is more cognitive, consisting of negative beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes about other people’s motives, intentions, and trustworthiness,” says lead study author Alexandra T. Tyra, a doctoral candidate in psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, in a release. “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,” she continues.
Why does a proclivity for suspicion potentially lead to cardiovascular problems? Cynicism and hostility toward others naturally put the body in a stressed-out state of alert. Over time, this constant strain takes its toll on the body’s stress responses.
“The increased risk of hostility is likely due to heightened physiological arousal to psychological stress, which can strain the cardiovascular system over time,” Tyra explains. “However, there has been a need for research to examine these physiological responses across multiple stress exposures to better resemble real-world conditions and assess adaptation over time.”
For example, generally, the cardiovascular system responds to a stressful event by increasing arousal (fight or flight response). However, the more one is exposed to a specific stressor, the less the body reacts.
“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,” Tyra says. “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,” she adds.
So, constant cynicism toward others appears to stop the body from adapting to stress. That means the body and cardiovascular system are constantly in a state of high alert, which isn’t exactly great in the long-term from a heart-health perspective.
Researchers investigated three distinct types of hostility for this study; cynical (suspiciousness of other people), emotional (chronic anger), and behavioral (verbal or physical aggression). According to their findings, however, cynical hostility is the greatest threat to one’s cardiovascular health.
Surprisingly, cynical hostility was the only form of hostility that influenced stress responses. Both behavioral and emotional hostility showed no signs of a relationship to stress.
“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,” Tyra clarifies.
Moving forward, the study’s authors want to see more research performed on this subject.
“Perhaps following individuals as they grow older to see whether a greater tendency to use cynical hostility while young is actually related to poor cardiovascular outcomes at an older age, such as a heart attack,” she concludes.
It’s often easier to adopt a cold, cynical worldview. The tendency being to use cynicism as a defense mechanism of sorts. These findings just go to show that optimism is always a better choice in the long run.
The full study can be found here, published in Psychophysiology.