Behavioral Conditioning Affects Cardiovascular Responses

Cardiovascular responses can be conditioned (as can other autonomic responses, such as those observed in Pavlov's famous experiments). Both classical and operant conditioning techniques have been used to raise and lower the blood pressure and heart rate of animals. Humans can also be taught to alter their heart rate and blood pressure, using a variety of behavioral techniques, such as biofeedback.

Behavioral conditioning of cardiovascular responses has significant clinical implications. Animal and human studies indicate that psychological stress can raise blood pressure, increase atherogenesis, and predispose to fatal cardiac arrhythmias. These effects are thought to result from an inappropriate fight-or-flight response. Other studies have shown beneficial effects of behavior patterns designed to introduce a sense of relaxation and well-being. Some clinical regimens for the treatment of cardiovascular disease take these factors into account.

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