Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A saliva test to predict agressive behaviour in boys

A lot of behavioural patterns are hard to discern by simply looking at the biological level, which is why we have invented a field of science called psychology. Linking biology and psychology has proven to be hard because our knowledge of the brain is still lacking. Often exaggerated claims are made regarding the way biological parameters affect things such as behaviour, but then again, it is a discipline that has not yet received the scientific attention it deserves. A novel study by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center raises an eyebrow as it claims to have found a relationship between hormonal components in saliva and the frequency of aggressive behaviour in boys. Could aggressive behaviour be something we can detect and 'treat' before it actually occurs?

Hormones
In their study, the Cincinnati scientists enrolled boys aged 7-9 years old and collected their saliva. All the boys in the study were admitted to the hospital on the psychiatric ward, indicating that their tendency towards aggressive behaviour is higher than found in a random group of boys. Every day the children had to provide three saliva samples, which were consequently analysed for the presence of the hormones testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and cortisol. These hormones were previously correlated with aggressive behaviour. As many of you already know, testosteron and androgen (of which DHEA is an example) are male sex hormones.

Results
Levels of each of these three hormones were determined from the obtained saliva samples and consequently correlated with the severity and frequency of aggressive behaviour. The scientists found that a higher level of hormones in the saliva sample was an accurate predictor for the severity and frequency of behaviour that was assessed as aggressive. To make these behavioural assessments, the scientists used a questionnaire that they have developed themselves.

Outlook
It was already known that higher levels of testosterone and androgen are linked with aggression, but it now seems that it can also serve as a predictive factor for such behaviour. Because the performed saliva tests are quick and easy, it may be worthwhile to do such tests in children or adolescents that are known to be more aggressive, of which a psychiatric ward in the hospital is an obvious example. The scientists also think their tool may help improving safety in schools.

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