The associations of hostility and defensiveness with telomere length are influenced by sex and health status

Biol Sex Differ. 2021 Jan 4;12(1):2. doi: 10.1186/s13293-020-00349-w.


Background: Shorter telomere length (TL) may indicate premature cellular aging and increased risk for disease. While there is substantial evidence for shorter TL in individuals suffering from psychiatric disorders, data is scarce on maladaptive personality traits related to coronary artery disease (CAD). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the association of TL with hostility and defensiveness in individuals with CAD or other non-cardiovascular illnesses and whether associations were moderated by CAD status and sex.

Methods: One thousand thirty-six individuals (Mage = 65.40 ± 6.73 years) with and without CAD completed the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale and the Cook-Medley Hostility Scale. Relative TL was measured via quantitative polymerase chain reaction of total genomic DNA samples. Analyses involved hierarchical regressions on TL, performed separately for hostility and defensiveness, controlling for pertinent sociodemographic, behavioural, and medical risk factors. Separate analyses were performed on 25 healthy participants.

Results: A hostility by sex interaction emerged (β = - .08, p = .006) in the patient groups, where greater hostility was associated with shorter TL in women only (p < .01). A Defensiveness by CAD status interaction (β = - .06, p = .049) revealed longer TL in more defensive CAD patients only (p = .06). In healthy men, shorter TL was observed in those with greater defensiveness (β = .52, p = .006) but lower hostility (β = - .43, p = .049).

Conclusion: Hostility and defensiveness are differentially associated with TL as a function of sex and health status. The implication of these results for health remains to be determined, but propose an additional pathway through which the effect of maladaptive personality traits may contribute to CV and other disease.

Keywords: Cardiovascular disease; Defensiveness; Hostility; Sex and age; Telomere length.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Coronary Artery Disease / genetics
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Hostility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Telomere

Grant support