Spouses' cardiovascular reactivity to their partners' suffering

Joan K. Monin, Richard Schulz, Lynn M. Martire, J. Richard Jennings, Jennifer Hagerty Lingler, Martin S. Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


A laboratory study of older adults with osteoarthritis and their spouses was conducted to examine the unique influence of exposure to suffering on caregivers' risk for impaired psychological and physical health. Spouses' blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) were monitored during 2 tasks designed to capture their partners' suffering. First, spouses watched their partners (and a stranger) carry heavy logs across an 8-ft space for 3 min, a task that elicited pain expression. Second, spouses spoke about their partners' suffering (and also about a typical meal with their partners). Results showed that spouses' BP and HR increased when watching and talking about their partners' suffering, and exposure to a partner's suffering was more physiologically stressful than to a stranger's suffering. These findings suggest that heightened physiological stress caused by exposure to a loved one's suffering may be one pathway to caregivers' increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-201
Number of pages7
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Volume65 B
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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