A Neuropsychological Investigation of Sex Differences in Cardiovascular Reactivity to Verbal and Spatial Fluency Tasks: Testing a New Model of Sex Differences in Cardiovascular Regulation and Disease


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Virginia Tech


One hundred twenty-six right-handed undergraduate men and women underwent physiological measurements of SBP, DBP, and HR before and after verbal and figural fluency tasks, used as stressors. Dynamic and functional cerebral regulation of cardiovascular reactivity was assessed, specifically, the role that the frontal lobes have in regulating SBP, DBP, and HR in men and women. Sex differences in the functional cerebral regulation of these cardiovascular factors were predicted. Hostility was assessed in these participants, using the Cook-Medley Hostility Inventory (6 total groups of 21 participants each: high-, mid-, and low-hostile participants were identified). Sex and group (hostility) differences were predicted, as well as task (fluency type) differences. Comparisons were also made from a time estimation task (30 and 180 seconds), and the effect that women's menstrual cycle had on fluency. The MCSDS and the STAI were administered.

The principal findings of the current investigation were that the verbal fluency task raised SBP across sex and group, that both stressors raised SBP or DBP in different patterns (no sex differences were found), while stressors interacted with both sex and group. High-hostile men performed better on the first trial of the verbal fluency test compared to low-hostile men, while high-hostile women performed worse on the first trial of the verbal fluency test, compared to low-hostile women. Men perseverated more on each trial of the verbal fluency test, while women perseverated less across trials. High-hostile men's time perception seems to be more rapid than low-hostile men, while for women it is the opposite. Women reported significantly more stress from the figural fluency task than men. Women in the luteal phase of menstruation did better on the verbal fluency test than women in the follicular phase of menstruation, and hostility and menstrual phase interact with verbal fluency.

This study encourages the consideration of neuropsychological sex differences in order to better understand cardiovascular regulation mechanisms and disease, leading to the development of improved prevention and behavioral management programs. Findings supporting this idea may bring about a new research focus, as some forms of cardiovascular disease may be more appropriately investigated as arising from neuropsychological problems.



sex differences, heart disease, cardiovascular regulation, cardiovascular disease, asymmetry, laterality, neuropsychology