This experiment tested the hypothesis that increased stimulation early in development would (a) alter developmental changes in heart rate and behavioral reactivity and (b) affect the level at which blood pressure was regulated in adulthood. For this purpose, the effects of daily handling and maternal separation (3 min per day) on both behavioral and cardiovascular measures were examined in spontaneously hypertensive (SHR) and normotensive control Wistar Kyoto (WKY) rats. Prior to weaning, elevated heart rates in pups handled during the first postnatal week were most pronounced among 4‐week‐old prehypertensive SHR pups. Early handling affected behavior observed during openfield testing similarly in young adult rats of the SHR and WKY strains (e.g., increased locomotor activity on the first day of testing). In female rats of the WKY strain, early handling resulted in a lower baseline blood pressure; the blood pressure; the blood pressure of SHR rats was not affected by increased stimulation in infancy. Examination of longitudinal data yielded no support for a direct association between behavioral reactivity or preweaning heart rate and high blood pressure. These findings demonstrate the influence of both early environmental conditions and genetic factors on maturation within the cardiovascular system and suggest that genetic models of pathological conditions may provide a productive means of examining environmentally shaped aspects of individual differences in physiological regulation. Copyright © 1984 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.