Openness to experience and cardiovascular responsivity to acute psychological stress
Ó Súilleabháin, Páraic
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Introduction. Research has implicated the personality trait of openness to experience - an individual’s propensity to be open to a variety of experiences, with a need to enlarge and examine experience - in the context of health outcomes, and in particular cardiovascular wellbeing. However, potential mechanisms remain unclear. The present research sought to determine if openness is relevant to consider within the context of cardiovascular responsivity to acute psychological stress. Methods. Four empirical studies are reported. In a sample of 77 female college students, Study 1 examined if openness is associated with cardiovascular responsivity across a protocol consisting of repeated stress exposures. Utilising the sample from the aforementioned Study 1, Study 2 investigated cardiovascular trajectories through a magnification of the initial stress exposure. In a sample of 91 college students (84 females and 7 males), Study 3 examined whether openness was associated with cardiovascular response trajectories across a protocol consisting of differing stressors. Addressing a potential threat to validity within Study 3, Study 4 (comprising of 98 female college students) investigated if openness is associated with differing cardiovascular responses to stress incorporating social evaluation. Results. Study 1 indicated that openness was associated with cardiovascular response trajectories across a protocol consisting of repeated stress exposures. Persons in the highest and middle tertiles of openness exhibited similar systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Conversely, those lowest in openness displayed low blood pressure responsivity. Persons highest in openness also displayed lower cardiac output throughout the protocol. Study 2 found that openness was associated with cardiovascular responsivity within the stress exposure. Specifically, those highest in openness were found to display an elevation of systolic blood pressure and heart rate responses during the exposure. Additionally, persons highest in openness exhibited a distinctly adaptive myocardial hemodynamic profile throughout the stress exposure. Study 3 found that openness was associated with responsivity across a protocol consisting of differing stressors. More specifically, openness was associated with systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate responsivity. When examining patterns of adaptation, persons in the lowest and middle tertiles exhibited stable patterns of responsivity from one task to the next. Those highest in openness exhibited patterns of habituation to the second differing stressor. Study 4 did not uncover evidence that openness is associated with differing cardiovascular responsivity to stress incorporating social evaluation. Conclusions. The findings provide evidence for cardiovascular stress responsivity as being a potential mechanism in reported openness-health associations. Persons highest in openness were found to display healthful cardiovascular response trajectories, displaying patterns of habituation of cardiovascular responses to different stressors, and exhibiting an adaptive hemodynamic response profile. Individuals lowest in openness were found to be characterised by patterns of cardiovascular functioning which are consistent with the notion of blunted responsivity, which may indicate disease risk. The present thesis provides evidence the higher-order trait of openness is of importance within the context of cardiovascular stress responsivity, thus providing a potential mechanism in reported health associations.