We examined the unique and joint effects of ethnicity, gender, and age on cardiovascular and catecholamine responses to the anger recall interview, and beta(2)-adrenergic receptor density and function on peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Participants were 179 nonsmoking, normotensive men and women aged 18-49 years. All subjects showed similar blood pressure increases during the anger recall interview. Black men, however, showed the smallest increases in heart rate in conjunction with an attenuated peripheral vasodilatation. Black women and Whites showed similar increases in heart rate and peripheral vasodilatation. Increasing age was associated with greater norepinephrine increases to anger recall in Black males. Black men also exhibited higher epinephrine levels throughout the protocol, higher dissociation constant to (125)I-pindolol, and age-dependent increases in beta(2)-receptor density. Relative to Whites and Black females, arousal of negative affect in Black males led to a pattern of sympathetic nervous system activity that may help explain the higher prevalence of hypertension in this population.