A pilot study suggests a sample of saliva may help predict a young boy’s risk for violent behavior.
Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center say they discovered a link between salivary concentrations of certain hormones and aggression.
Their research is published online in the journal Psychiatric Quarterly.
Drew Barzman, M.D., a child and adolescent forensic psychiatrist, collected saliva samples from 17 boys ages 7 to 9 years old admitted to the hospital for psychiatric care to identify which children were most likely to show aggression and violence.
The samples, collected three times in one day shortly after admission, were tested for levels of three hormones: testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and cortisol. The severity and frequency of aggression correlated with the levels of these hormones, according to the researchers.
Barzman’s team focused on rapid, real-time assessment of violence among child and adolescent inpatients, a common problem in psychiatric units. He also believes a fast and accurate saliva test could eventually have several other applications.
“We believe salivary hormone testing has the potential to help doctors monitor which treatments are working best for their patients,” said Barzman.
“And because mental health professionals are far more likely to be assaulted on the job than the average worker, it could offer a quick way to anticipate violent behavior in child psychiatric units. Eventually, we hope this testing might also provide a tool to help improve safety in schools.”
In the current study, the saliva test was used in combination with other aggressive behavior tools, including the Brief Rating of Aggression by Children and Adolescents (BRACHA) questionnaire, an assessment tool also developed by Barzman’s team to predict aggression and violence in the hospital.
“This study sample, while small, gives us the data we need to move forward,” added Barzman. “We have more studies planned before we can reach a definitive conclusion, but developing a new tool to help us anticipate violent behavior is our ultimate goal.”
Future studies will expand the scope of analysis to include girls and a broader age range of patients, say the researchers.
Source: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital