Emotional inhibition in essential hypertension: obstacle to communication during medical visits?

D. L. Roter, C. K. Ewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A substantial literature on the "hypertensive personality" links essential hypertension (EH) with the suppression of negative emotions, implying that suppression may elevate blood pressure. Yet affective inhibition might also impair communication with health care providers and exacerbate EH by limiting therapeutic collaboration. We studied 542 patient-physician interviews from a national sample to see if patients with EH (n = 203) were less likely to exhibit negative emotions than normotensive patients (n = 339) as rated by their physicians and independent observers. EH patients did not differ from others on self-rated emotional or physical health. However, physicians were less accurate in characterizing the emotional states of EH patients than those of normotensive patients, and they rated EH patients as exhibiting fewer signs of distress during the visit. Independent observers also judged the EH patients as less distressed than normotensives, thereby validating the physicians' appraisals. Content analysis disclosed that physicians paid less attention to psychosocial concerns and concentrated on biomedical matters to a greater degree with hypertensive patients than with their normotensive patients. EH patients, particularly those experiencing emotional distress, appear to have patterns of self-presentation that could present an obstacle to effective communication with their physicians, and this difficulty may be amplified by physicians' disinclination to probe for emotional difficulty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-169
Number of pages7
JournalHealth psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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