Relations between stress hormones and antisocial behavior are understudied.
A subsample (n = 335) of at-risk males recruited in first grade for a longitudinal study were recruited at approximately 16 years of age for a laboratory study, including two psychological challenges: describing their worst experience on videotape, and a task in which a loud tone could be avoided. Measures of affect, urine, and saliva were collected multiple times before and after challenges.
Negative affect increased following the worst-event challenge and decreased following the avoidance challenge. Mean conduct problems (CP) across ages 7-17 years were positively related to negative affect and inversely related to positive affect. CP were inversely related to post-challenge urinary epinephrine (E) levels when baseline E and potential confounds were controlled. Cortisol concentrations in saliva collected soon after the first challenge were positively related to CP in a post hoc subset of youths with extreme CP.
Key findings A) associated persistent CP with more negative affectivity and less positive affectivity, B) replicated and extended prior findings of an inverse association of CP and urinary E, and C) suggested provocative hypotheses for future study relating CP, trauma history, trauma recall, and cortisol reactivity.