ew research suggests that antagonistic people, and especially those who are manipulative and aggressive, have a higher risk of stroke and heart attack due to arterial thickening, over and above traditional cardiovascular risk factors, than people who are more agreeable, straightforward and compliant.

You can read how researchers from the US and Italy came to these conclusions in a paper published in the 16 August issue of Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association.

First author Dr Angelina Sutin, a postdoctoral fellow with the National Institute on Aging (NIH), based in Baltimore, Maryland in the US, told the press they found that:

“People who tend to be competitive and more willing to fight for their own self interest have thicker arterial walls, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”

She said more agreeable people tend to be more trusting and straightforward and they show concern for others. In contrast, those at the other end of the agreeableness spectrum score high on antagonism, are distrustful of others, more skeptical, self-centred, arrogant, cynical, manipulative, and quick to show anger.

The researchers wrote in their paper that while we already have a lot of evidence linking high antagonism and cardiovascular risk, what is not clear is how intermediate markers of cardiovascular disease relate to these psychological traits.

For the study they looked at data on a large sample of 5,614 people living in four villages in Sardinia in Italy to examine how trait antagonism or low agreeableness and related facets related to arterial thickening, a known risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

The participants were taking part in the SardiNIA Study of Aging, which is supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a component of the NIH. Their average age was 42, ranging from 14 to 94, and 58 per cent were female.

The participants completed a standard personality test at the start of the study, which ran for 3 years. The test included a six-facet measure of agreeableness that covered: trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty and tender mindedness, said the researchers in a press statement.

The measure of arterial thickening that the researchers used was the thickness of the artery wall in the carotid: an artery inside the neck that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the head and neck. They examined it at the start and the end of the three years, using an ultrasound scanner that measured the intima-media thickness of the carotid at five points in the neck.

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