A link between reduced levels of the 'stress hormone' cortisol and antisocial behaviour in male adolescents has been discovered by a research team at the University of Cambridge.
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.
So suppose we could come up with a nanosensor that measured when some violent guy was about to act aggressively. Imagine combining that with some nanocomputer and a little nanotube network tied to some cells that can be stimulated to excrete cortisol. Implant all that into the body of someone with violent impulses and it should be possible to cut back on their violent outbursts. What do you think? Want safer streets via tech that controls people? We are maybe about 10 years away from being able to do this sort of thing.
I'd like to know which sorts of antisocial kids don't produce as much cortisol. Do some of them lack the ability to see a situation as stressful?
The new research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, shows that adolescents with severe antisocial behaviour do not exhibit the same increase in cortisol levels when under stress as those without antisocial behaviour. These findings suggest that antisocial behaviour, 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 behaviour 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 behaviour.
So are these kids this way because of genetic reasons, responses to experiences, or some combination thereof? Maybe the bad kids have become desensitized to stress? Or maybe their ability to get violent in stressful situation was an adaptive advantage for their ancestors and contributing genes got selected for.
Some kids go bad with depressed cortisol levels at age 5. Pity the parents - unless they too have depressed cortisol levels and are terrors.
One other surprise was that the cortisol drops were about the same across all the delinquents, whether they originally became disruptive during childhood or during adolescence.
Although it's already accepted that there is a strong biological component to "early-onset" conduct disorder, which develops around the age of five, the current thinking is that when delinquency develops in teenagers, it's mainly a result of malevolent peer pressure, perhaps combined with lack of supervision at home.
The new research challenges this picture by showing that in both groups, cortisol levels fell – a biological rather than peer-led response.
Implanted devices that release cortisol would be like an artificial endocrine system that makes up for underactive adrenal glands.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2008 September 30 11:15 PM Brain Violence|