Families with paternal hypertension : social gaze behavior during roleplaying of family conflict

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Reviewers of psychological factors in essential hypertension have urged direct observation of family behavior as an important strategy for discovering the social processes which play significant roles in the disorder. Results of a recent pioneering study of this kind suggested that, in situations which arouse unpleasant emotions, members of families with hypertensive fathers exhibit conflict-avoidance by gaze aversion. In addition, the systolic blood pressures of children with hypertensive fathers were correlated with their parents' combined gaze aversion behavior. The data seemed consistent with suppressed hostility as a psychosomatic factor in essential hypertension, and pointed to a family behavior pattern which might promote the social learning of pathogenic affect-management behavior by the children of hypertensive parents. In the present study, the gaze behaviors of three- person family groups in laboratory roleplaying situations were analyzed in detail, to confirm the previous findings and to explore the empirical relationships of gaze aversion, conflict-provocation, and children's blood pressures. It was hypothesized that reduced social gaze (and increased gaze aversion) would be observed in high versus low- conflict interactions, that hypertensive families would show less social gaze than normotensive families, and that high conflict would accentuate these group differences. It was also hypothesized that acute instances of conflict-provocation would evoke these differences most dramatically, demonstrating the conflict-avoidant function of gaze aversion. Further, for the hypertensive families, it was predicted that children's blood pressure changes would be correlated with parental gaze aversion in an immediately preceding period of roleplayed family conflict. The participants were 16 families with hypertensive fathers and 16 families with normotensive fathers-. The families were videotaped in a five-minute roleplay of a mild family disagreement (Segment 1), in a six-minute simulation of an angry, family "fight" (Segment 2), and a continuation of the simulated fight which included four, cued, conflict-provocative, verbal "challenges" by the father (Segment 3). Blood pressures were taken at rest before Segment 1, after Segment 1, and after Segment 3. The videotapes were coded by teams of trained observers who made highly reliable, second-by-second records of the visual attention and speaking turns of each family member. Total Social Gaze, Tracking (visual attention to the speaker), Mutual Facial Gaze, Listener No Social Gaze (LNG), and Turn Time were obtained as proportions of the total interaction time during which the behaviors might occur. [...]