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Study links children's personalities to stress response

Dante CicchettiIn an article published in Development and Psychopathology, Dante Cicchetti, William Harris Professor of Child Development and Psychiatry in the Institute of Child Development, and researchers from the University of Rochester report that basic temperamental responses are linked to hormonal responses to stress. To understand the role of stress in children's reactions, Patrick Davies, Melissa Sturge-Apple, and Cicchetti focused on parental conflict in young families. "Doves"--children who respond timidly to unfamiliar situations--released higher levels of the hormone cortisol when faced with a simulated family conflict than did "hawks"--those who are bold in the face of new environments.

This high-and-low-cortisol reactivity provides different developmental advantages and disadvantages, the authors wrote. Heightened cortisol levels characteristic of the doves were related to lower attention problems but also put them at risk for developing anxiety and depression over time. By contrast, the lower cortisol levels for hawks in aggressive families were associated with lower anxiety problems; however, at the same time, these children were more prone to risky behavior, including attention and hyperactivity problems.

Read the complete University of Rochester release here.

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