Creative Inquiry Spotlight: A Look Into the Impact of Blood Pressure on Emotional Recognition

By Kathryn Simmons on February 5, 2013

Many students are jumping at the chance to participate in Creative Inquiry at Clemson. I was even part of the program my sophomore year when I helped out in the 1941 Studio of Daniel Hall, grading ePortfolios, aiding other students with their own portfolios, and occasionally answering the phone. Though mine wasn’t very exciting, there are countless other projects that students are participating in, mostly stemming from their own ideas and problems they wish to explore and solve. One in particular is overseen by Dr. James McCubbin, professor of Psychology. Reflecting on his undergraduate career at UNC-Chapel Hill, he states that the “single most important experience…was [working] in a world-class faculty research laboratory.” I have to agree with Dr. McCubbin since there is something stimulating, curiosity-provoking, and rewarding from collaborating with others on a question or problem you are genuinely interested in, which, in turn, makes it an important part of the university experience.

So what exactly are they working on?

Dr. McCubbin and eight undergraduate students are focusing on the effects caused by changes in brain and cognitive function due to individuals at risk for development of hypertension, or, in other words, high blood pressure. This research is carried out through a series of projects. The one I found most interesting focuses specifically on the fluctuation in blood pressure and its impact not only on a person’s health, but also a person’s ability to recognize different emotions in others, otherwise known as “emotional dampening.”

So, say your blood pressure is abnormally high one day at work, and as you enter the office, some of your coworkers have looks of disbelief and exasperation on their faces, some delighted, and some indifferent. Then, there’s your boss. He has a curious and covert look about him. Yet, you don’t pick up on these facial clues and have no idea that you are about to receive a promotion. That’s because the higher your blood pressure, the less likely you are able to pick up on others’ emotions. This can lead to havoc because if you cannot detect the level of emotion in others from such a simple standpoint, then you are most likely not able to detect the amount of risk in any given situation as well. This could mean that along with having high blood pressure, you may also blow your bonus check or drink a bit too much in celebration.

The Impact

The work that Dr. McCubbin and his students are doing is phenomenal and apt to change lives. They have plans to extend their research on the clinical level to help children with autism improve their emotional recognition.

“The future is only brighter as we continue exploring emotional dampening and piloting new projects concerning therapies for those with deficits in emotional recognition. Creative Inquiry has been an invaluable experience and allowed me to grow both personally and professionally.” – Jack Graham, undergraduate student at Clemson University

Their research is also being presented at international scientific conferences as well. In the past, they have gone to Portland, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Miami. As a result, these students, and even those in other Creative Inquiries, are being exposed to possible groundbreaking research, a network of professionals as well as students who share the same drive as they do, and experiences that could make “a significant contribution to their overall career success.” It could change their lives as well as others.
* Photo courtesy of online magazine Don’t Panic



I am a Clemson University alumna and a current grad student at the University of South Carolina--yes, you read that right. I am the Vice President of a non-profit organization that is devoted to service. I also market for them in addition to others who let me take them on as clients. I love art and graphic design, reading, traveling, spending time with friends and family, anything Castle (the TV show!) and singing.

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