by Eve Andrews
A recent study orchestrated by Dr. Graeme Fairchild and Professor Ian Goodyer at the University of Cambridge suggests that the heartbreakingly misunderstood bad boy you had a crush on in high school may have suffered from a deficiency in a crucial stress hormone more so than a case of incurable angst. Adolescent males who display “antisocial behavior,” such as aggression or other tendencies toward delinquency, have significantly lower levels of cortisol than their better-behaved counterparts.
Cortisol, the hormone in question, assists in the control of strong – especially violent and angry – emotions in a stressful situation. When an individual is placed under stress, the adrenal gland then secretes cortisol to elicit a response to the initial stress stimulus in the body. Fairchild and Goodyer’s study utilized teenage boys with a history of “severe antisocial behavior” – recruited from disciplinary institutions and referred by schools – and also boys without such a history. Researchers compared cortisol levels in saliva samples taken in a neutral setting and those taken in a stressful situation. Among the non-antisocial boys, cortisol levels surged during the stressful situation, whereas among the antisocial ones cortisol levels dropped below the neutral level.
This is not the first study to link cortisol deficiency and hostile behavior. In 2000, the University of Chicago illustrated a correlation between low levels of cortisol and aggression at a young age. The significance of these studies, especially in tandem, is that they offer a fairly simple biological explanation for a behavioral disorder. As scientists have discovered that depression and schizophrenia stem from biological irregularities in the brain, they have been able to formulate treatments for these diseases. Thus the “cure for the bad boy” becomes a tangible possibility, since all those lunch detentions were never really doing the trick.
• University of Cambridge (2008, October 5). Antisocial Behavior May Be Caused By Low Stress Hormone Levels. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 7, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081001093506.htm
• University Of Chicago Medical Center (2000, January 20). Low Levels Of Salivary Cortisol Associated With Aggressive Behavior. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 7, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/01/000120073039.htm