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Biological Link for Antisocial Behavior

biologicalA new finding ties antisocial behavior to reduced levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered levels of cortisol in the body usually increase when people undergo a stressful experience, such as public speaking, sitting an exam, or having surgery.

It enhances memory formation and is thought to make people behave more cautiously and to help them regulate their emotions, particularly their temper and violent impulses.

The new research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, shows that adolescents with severe antisocial behavior do not exhibit the same increase in cortisol levels when under stress as those without antisocial behavior.

These findings suggest that antisocial behavior, at least in some cases, may be seen as a form of mental illness that is linked to physiological symptoms (involving a chemical imbalance of cortisol in the brain and body).

The scientists, led by Dr Graeme Fairchild and Professor Ian Goodyer, 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.

The differences between participants with severe antisocial behavior and those without were most marked under stressful conditions. While the average adolescents showed large increases in the amount of cortisol during the frustrating situation, cortisol levels actually went down in those with severe antisocial behavior.

These results suggest that antisocial behavior 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.

Dr Fairchild said, “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 behavior problems. We may also be able create targeted interventions for those at higher risk.

“A possible treatment for this disorder offers the chance to improve the lives of both the adolescents who are afflicted and the communities in which they live.”

Source: University of Cambridge

Biological Link for Antisocial Behavior

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Biological Link for Antisocial Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 20, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2008/10/01/biological-link-for-antisocial-behavior/3039.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.