Psychophysiology of Arterial Baroreceptors and the Etiology of Hypertension

Biol Psychol. Jul-Aug 2001;57(1-3):179-201. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0511(01)00094-1.


Arterial baroreceptors are sensitive to blood pressure dependent blood vessel dilation. They play a key role in the short term regulation of blood pressure. Their impact on psychological and psychophysiological aspects is of increasing interest. The review focuses on experimental techniques for the controlled baroreceptor manipulation. Results from the application of these techniques show that baroreceptor activation influences the cardiovascular system as well as central nervous functioning: Behavioral and electrophysiological measures of arousal, low level reflexes and pain responses are modulated through baroreceptor manipulation. The observation of an overall dampening ('barbiturate like') effect of baroreceptor activity led Dworkin et al. formulate the theory of learned hypertension: Subjects might experience blood pressure dependent baroreceptor activation as stress and pain relieving. High blood pressure periods become negatively reinforced. Phasic high blood pressure might develop as a coping strategy. Data from a longitudinal human study supporting this theory are reported.

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / physiopathology*
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Pressoreceptors / physiopathology*
  • Psychophysiology
  • Sleep Stages / physiology