Extroverts have better cardiovascular responses to stress

Extroverts benefit from lesser physiological responses to, more complete recovery from and better adaptation to social stressors, according to a new study published in Psychophysiology—a phenomenon that could have a range of cardiovascular health perks.

Stress induces physiological processes ranging from cardiovascular to neuroendocrine to immune system changes, Wei Lu, PhD, and co-author Zhenhong Wang, PhD, wrote in the study. Physiological changes in extroverts have been unlinked to cognitive stress in previous studies that have employed mental arithmetic or Stroop tasks as testing techniques, but, since extroversion is so closely tied to sociability, Lu and Wang hypothesized a more apparent link might exist with social stress.

“Personality traits like extroversion, openness and trait resilience are the positive personality traits which are related to good social adaption and favorable health outcomes,” Lu told Cardiovascular Business. “In the past, researchers explored the difference between extroverts and introverts on stress cardiovascular responses (CVRs). However, it remains unknown that when they are repeatedly exposed to stress, how they physiologically cope.”

Lu and Wang examined two sets of college students totaling 175 patients, exposing each cohort to two separate sources of stress and subsequently measuring their physiological responses to each task. The students were categorized as either high or low on an extroversion scale determined by personality inventory test NEO-FFI, the authors wrote, and were analyzed at baseline, during the first stressor, after the first stressor, and during and after the second stressor.

To induce social stress in the patients, Lu and Wang asked each participant to prepare—in 30 seconds or less—a hypothetical on-the-spot job pitch for a position as an office secretary and, in the second instance, as a high school teacher. Students were given five minutes for each speech, and between each test were allowed five minutes of relaxation in which they were exposed to simple projected photos—an umbrella and a book.

According to Lu and Wang’s results, patients higher on the extrovert scale displayed lesser heart rate (HR) reactivity and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) withdrawals to the first social stress, as well as lesser HR reactivity to the second stressor. High extroversion subjects were also more likely to show pronounced systolic blood pressure adaption, while low extraversion patients leaned toward diastolic blood pressure sensitization. What this suggests, the authors wrote, is that extroverts’ bodies seem more adaptable to different social stressors and can recover from stressed states much more easily than introverts’, which could have numerous health benefits.

“The findings of the present study suggest that extroverts exhibit more adaptive physiological responses to recurrent social stress, which might benefit their health,” Lu said. “Comparatively, introverts’ lack of physiological response adaptation to repeated stress might increase their risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases.”

Lu said she recently completed further research on the topic in which she broke down social stressors into moderate-intensity social stress and high-intensity social stress.

“It is interesting that extroverts showed relative lower cardiovascular response to the moderate-intensity social stress, while they exhibited greater cardiovascular response than introverts in high-intensity social stress,” she said of her new work. “Extroverts showed better CVR recovery after social stress, and better CVR adaptation to repeated social stress, regardless of stress intensity.”

Lu’s new work will be published in an upcoming volume of the International Journal of Psychophysiology.

“This research extends previous study findings by considering the intensity of stress,” she said. “The findings suggest that extroverts enjoy physiological flexibility (and) can dynamically adjust their physiological responses according to environmental demands.”