Antisocial Behaviour Link to Stress Hormone Cortisol
SCIENTISTS at Cambridge University have presented a paper which shows that adolescent boys diagnosed with a history severe antisocial behaviour are deficient in the stress hormone emotion regulator, cortisol. In a normal person there is a surge of this hormone in times of stress and is thought to help temper emotions and violent impulses. In the Cambridge case studies, antisocial individuals, failed to show a similar surge, giving rise to speculation that antisocial behaviour may be linked to chemical activity in the brain.
Low levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been linked to antisocial behaviour in adolescent boys.
Cortisol levels in the body usually surge in stressful situations, thought to help people regulate emotions.
But a Cambridge university study found this did not happen in boys with a history of severe antisocial behaviour.
The Biological Pyschiatry study suggests some bad behaviour may be a form of mental illness linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain.
If we can figure out precisely what underlies the inability to show a normal stress response, we may be able to design new treatments for severe behaviour problems.
Dr Graeme Fairchild
University of Cambridge
An increase in cortisol levels is thought to make people behave more cautiously, and help them to regulate their emotions, particularly their temper and violent impulses.
The Cambridge team recruited participants for the study from schools, pupil referral units and the Youth Offending Service.
Samples of saliva were collected over several days from the subjects in a non-stressful environment to measure levels of the hormone under resting conditions.
The young men then took part in a stressful experiment that was designed to induce frustration.
Samples of saliva were taken immediately before, during and after the experiment to track how cortisol changed during stress.
While the average adolescents showed large increases in the amount of cortisol during the frustrating situation, cortisol levels actually went down in those with histories of severe antisocial behaviour.
The researchers said the results suggest that antisocial behaviour may be more biologically-based than previously considered, just as some individuals are more vulnerable to depression or anxiety due to their biological make-up.