Do Agonistic Motives Matter More Than Anger? Three Studies of Cardiovascular Risk in Adolescents

Craig K. Ewart, Gavin J. Elder, Joshua M. Smyth, Martin J. Sliwinski, Randall S. Jorgensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


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). Agonistic striving has been associated with elevated ambulatory blood pressure during daily activities. Three studies tested the hypotheses that: (1) agonistic striving is associated with poor anger regulation, and (2) agonistic striving and poor anger regulation interactively elevate blood pressure. Design: Motivational profiles, anger regulation, and ambulatory blood pressure were assessed in a multiethnic sample of 264 urban youth. Main Outcome Measures: (1) anger regulation/recovery during laboratory challenge; (2) anger/blood pressure during daily activities (48 hours). Results and Conclusion: Replication of the profiles in distant cities showed they occur with similar frequency across differences of region, race, and gender. Analyses controlling for body size, race, and gender revealed that individuals with the agonistic striving profile had higher ambulatory pressure, especially during social encounters. They became more openly angry and aggressive when challenged but did not exhibit difficulty regulating anger in the laboratory, nor did they feel angrier during monitoring. 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. Although anger is thought to increase cardiovascular risk, present findings suggest that anger and elevated blood pressure are coeffects of agonistic struggles to control others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)510-524
Number of pages15
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Adolescent health
  • Anger regulation
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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