Dominance could kill you

2015

If you’re one of those individuals who believes that aggressive, competitive behaviour is the way to get ahead, you might want to check your medical insurance. Because according to new research, a hostile-dominant personality increases the risk of heart disease and could even shorten your life.

Psychologist Timothy W. Smith and colleagues at the University of Utah surveyed 500 undergraduates over four studies to compare the health effects of hostile-dominant personality style compared with the warm-dominant style.

What they found was a classic example of ‘behavioural karma’. Those with an abrasive attitude towards others reported greater hostility and interpersonal stress in their own lives and showed significant increases in blood pressure when they interacted with others of a similar dominant personality type. Previous studies have found that increased blood pressure reactivity to stress puts people at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Warm-dominant types, however, are not only altogether friendlier and nicer, but tend to rank themselves as higher in social status. Moreover, another study of 154 older, married couples also found that a warm-dominant style was associated with less conflict and more support.

In contrast, a hostile-dominant style was associated with more severe atherosclerosis in men and women, as measured by coronary artery calcification. Hostile-dominance was also linked with greater marital conflict and lower marital support.

“It's bad news for relentless power-seekers the likes of Frank Underwood on House of Cards,” Smith said.

“Climbing the ladder of social status through aggressive, competitive striving might shorten your life as a result of increased vulnerability to cardiovascular disease. And it's good news for successful types who are friendlier; it seems that attaining higher social status as the result of prestige and freely given respect may have protective effects.”

He added that while people can take steps to change a hostile personality style before it is too late, something usually has to fall apart first before they are willing to entertain that option.

“But there is some evidence that it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks, and if you do, it can reduce coronary risk.”