Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Behavioral problems linked to cortisol levels: Study finds intervention needed as soon as behavioral problems appear

Date:
February 10, 2011
Source:
Concordia University
Summary:
Researchers may have resolved the cortisol paradox. In a groundbreaking study, they link cortisol levels not simply to behavior problems, but to the length of time individuals have experienced behavior problems.

Cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, seems to behave in contradictory ways in children. Some youngsters with behavioral problems have abnormally high levels of cortisol, while others with identical problems have abnormally low levels. What's going on?

Researchers at Concordia University and the Centre for Research in Human Development may have resolved the cortisol paradox. In a groundbreaking study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior, they link cortisol levels not simply to behavior problems, but to the length of time individuals have experienced behavior problems.

"We studied the relationship between cortisol levels in young people with problematic behaviour such as aggression or depression, and the length of time since the onset of these behaviours," explains Paula Ruttle, lead author and PhD candidate at Concordia's Department of Psychology. "Cortisol levels were abnormally high around the time problem behaviours began, but abnormally low when they had been present for a long time."

To obtain subjects' cortisol levels, researchers analyzed saliva samples taken from 96 young people during early adolescence. They then matched cortisol levels to behavioral assessments taken in childhood and again during adolescence. Problem behaviours were classified as either "internalizing" (depression and anxiety) or "externalizing" (aggression, attentional problems).

Riding the cortisol roller coaster

Youngsters who developed depression-like symptoms or anxiety problems in adolescence had high levels of cortisol. However, those who developed symptoms earlier had abnormally low cortisol levels. The conclusion? Cortisol levels go up when individuals are first stressed by depression or anxiety, but then decline again if they experience stress for an extended period.

"It seems the body adapts to long-term stress, such as depression, by blunting its normal response," says coauthor Lisa Serbin, a psychology professor who is Ruttle's PhD supervisor and Concordia University Research Chair in Human Development.

"To take an extreme example, if someone sees a bear in the yard, that person experiences a 'flight or fight' reaction," continues Serbin, a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development. "Stress levels and therefore cortisol levels go up. However, if the same person sees bears in the yard every day for a year, the stress response is blunted. Eventually, cortisol levels become abnormally low."

Aggressive behavior in early childhood

At first glance, study results from children with aggressive behavior and attentional problems seem to contradict this theory. In this group they found that low levels of cortisol were related to aggressive behavior both during childhood and adolescence. However, the authors contend that since aggressive behavior often begins in the second year of life or earlier, subjects may have been stressed for years before entering the study, resulting in abnormally low cortisol levels.

"This blunted response makes sense from a physiological point of view," says Ruttle. "In the short term, high levels of cortisol help the body respond to stress. However, in the long term, excessive levels of cortisol are linked to a range of physical and mental health problems. So, to protect itself, the body shuts down the cortisol system -- but research shows that's not good either."

What, me worry?

Individuals with a blunted response to stress may not respond to things that would -- and should -- make other people nervous. For example, children with long-term behaviour problems perform poorly in school. Because of their blunted stress response, these youngsters may not be worried about exams, so they don't bother to prepare as much as their peers.

The study has many significant implications, according to Serbin. "This research suggests interventions should begin as soon as a behavioural problem appears," she says. "For children with severe externalizing problems, this may be very early, perhaps even when they are preschoolers or toddlers.

"We now have evidence that behavioural problems in children are linked to mental and physical health. Taking a 'wait-and-see' attitude may not be the right approach."

This research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Concordia University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Paula L. Ruttle, Elizabeth A. Shirtcliff, Lisa A. Serbin, Dahlia Ben-Dat Fisher, Dale M. Stack, Alex E. Schwartzman. Disentangling psychobiological mechanisms underlying internalizing and externalizing behaviors in youth: Longitudinal and concurrent associations with cortisol. Hormones and Behavior, 2011; 59 (1): 123 DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2010.10.015

Cite This Page:

Concordia University. "Behavioral problems linked to cortisol levels: Study finds intervention needed as soon as behavioral problems appear." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110209124143.htm>.
Concordia University. (2011, February 10). Behavioral problems linked to cortisol levels: Study finds intervention needed as soon as behavioral problems appear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110209124143.htm
Concordia University. "Behavioral problems linked to cortisol levels: Study finds intervention needed as soon as behavioral problems appear." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110209124143.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How Nigeria Beat Its Ebola Outbreak

How Nigeria Beat Its Ebola Outbreak

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) The World Health Organization has declared Nigeria free of Ebola. Health experts credit a bit of luck and the government's initial response. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Another Study Suggests Viagra Is Good For The Heart

Another Study Suggests Viagra Is Good For The Heart

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) An ingredient in erectile-dysfunction medications such as Viagra could improve heart function. Perhaps not surprising, given Viagra's history. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Worries End for Dozens on U.S. Watch Lists

Ebola Worries End for Dozens on U.S. Watch Lists

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 20, 2014) Forty-three people who had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., were cleared overnight of twice-daily monitoring after 21 days of showing no symptoms. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beijing Marathon Runners Brave Hazardous Air Pollution

Beijing Marathon Runners Brave Hazardous Air Pollution

AFP (Oct. 19, 2014) Tens of thousands of runners battled thick smog at the Beijing Marathon on Sunday, with some donning masks as the levels of PM2.5 small pollutant particles soared to 16 times the maximum recommended level. Duration: 00:54 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins