Controlling Behavior May Increase Cardiovascular Risk for Adolescents

Increased anger can cause elevated stress levels and high blood pressure. These factors taken together have been shown to put people at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. But a new study, conducted by researchers from Syracuse University, suggests that the type of anger an adolescent exhibits may directly impact their risk. “Three motivational profiles have been associated with recurring psychological stress in low-income youth and young adults: Striving to control others (agonistic striving), striving to control the self (transcendence striving), and not asserting control (dissipated striving),” said Craig K. Ewart, lead author of the study. “A social action perspective suggests that agonistic striving may increase risk for hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.”

Ewart and his colleagues evaluated 264 high school students from urban communities who were part of a larger study to measure the effects of stress on heart disease risk. The students were asked to recount a specific situation that caused them stress and give an objective solution to the problem. From this experiment, the interviewers were able to gauge the anger response style of the participants.

The researchers found that the students with agonistic personalities exhibited more anger and sadness during the interview. Additionally, this group of students showed the most energy throughout the process. The team also measured the ability of the students to regulate their emotions and again found that the agonistic students were less able to control their emotions than the transcendent group. The former exhibited higher levels of Anger Intensity, Aggression, and continuing Hostile Reaction and made less use of Constructive Problem Solving techniques when angry,” said Ewart. The agonistic group reported that they did not feel angry during the interview process. Ewart said, “However, individuals with the agonistic striving profile who did display poor anger regulation in the lab had the highest blood pressure; deficient self-regulatory capability amplified the positive association between agonistic striving and cardiovascular risk in both genders and all ethnic groups.”

Ewart, Craig K., Gavin J. Elder, Joshua M. Smyth, Martin J. Sliwinski, and Randall S. Jorgensen. “Do Agonistic Motives Matter More than Anger? Three Studies of Cardiovascular Risk in Adolescents.” Health Psychology 30.5 (2011): 510-24. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Lister


    September 27th, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    The ability to control one’s anger is a learned capability, and unfortunately something that I would guess many in this study have seen the adults in their lives model for them. The poor communities have a lot of poverty and tragedy awaiting them in their lives, and it is a repeating cycle that continues to happen for them and to them. Do you think that you would be the happiest or most controlled person if this was something that you had had to bear witness to for most of your life? These are children who need positive role models in their lives, and in the situations that they are living in this is something that you will rarely find.

  • Katherine J. Brower

    Katherine J. Brower

    September 27th, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    Controlling others is impossible, they are their own free thinking person and cannot be manipulated with 100% certainty. This alone can be highly stressful. When you are constantly attempting to manage people you will be faced with blatant disobedience. Lack of control is what causes intensified stress, their for causing cardiovascular disease. When you are faced with anger caused by disobedience it is a an outward open anger or a rage, much different from the anger displayed when you are having difficulty with internal control. I for one know the stressfulness of trying to manage people is much different than for managing myself. Reading a self-improvement book is works much better than reading a management one.

  • DF


    September 27th, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    Stress is no good for anybody. It may seem like there’s no escaping stress but it’s such a poison that we have to make a way.

    And if you’re sitting there thinking “I’m young and energetic and a little bit of stress is not going to affect me”,then read this article and I’m sure there are many more that prove otherwise.

    And this should be more reason for schools and colleges to have sufficient on-campus counselors to help students cope with stress.

  • Tyanda


    September 28th, 2011 at 4:14 AM

    I grew up in this kind of environment where there is always a lot of misdirected anger and very few ways for you to control that or to deal with it in a healthy way. And the bad thing is that for many of us growing up there was not anyone that we felt like we could turn to either. The school was crappy and so was our home life so the only thing that I knew how to do and eventually do was to escape via a lot of good luck and good grades. But this is not an option for everyone. How about some intervention programs in these schools where this seems to be the most prevalent and start helping the students from the ground up?

  • diana


    September 28th, 2011 at 4:22 AM

    no amount of effort or frustration can convince another person of something that he o she doesn’t want to hear.and this is what cab trigger the negatives in theperson that is trying to control another.

    maybe some people have a tendency to do this but it really seems like a foolish even to just try to control others and their views or whatever it may be.

  • abi


    September 28th, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    Why do we so often try to control others when really the only one that we have nay control over is ourselves.

    I hope that this is something that is being taught to these kids.

    They may not can change the other people in their lives but they can do like some others readers and make a life of their own that they can be comfortable in and proud of.

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