Stress, Genetics Foster Behavioral Problems
> 7/11/2007 8:43:08 AM

According to a recent study performed by psychologists at Rutgers University and published in the latest issue of the journal Psychological Science, physical tendencies passed from parents to children often combine with domestic troubles to create kids unable to behave properly at home, at school and in public.

Researchers' primary variable was a skin conductance response (SCR) test: more specifically, a measurement of the sweat in the palm of each child's hand when presented with stressful stimuli. This seemingly remote statistic actually goes a long way toward determining the nature of a child's stress response system. Those with less restrained stress mechanisms will secrete more sweat, indicating more dramatic momentary spikes in anxiety levels. Researchers measured the responses of the children involved while they watched images intended either to placate or upset them - a video of a swimming dolphin was immediately followed by a clip of a young girl's room catching fire. The degree of endorphins released in reaction to the second video determined the speed and intensity of each child's response mechanism. After observing the same group of children four times over a six year period, researchers issued the grand statement that those displaying both impulsive stress responses and evidence of "family adversity" were most likely to resort to delinquent behaviors with the passage of time. This bewilderingly obvious conclusion also begs the subsequent question: what, exactly, constitutes such adversity? It may seem like common sense to determine which families qualify as "troubled," but a list of potential specifics could be endless.

This study is, by its very nature, extremely imprecise. While impulsive, unthinking, genetically inherited responses to stress and other stimuli are obviously common to "difficult" kids, the central component of many behavioral problem cases is a child who lacks the capacity or desire for self-control, and such studies cannot validate lax parenting or altogether absolve a difficult child of responsibility for his or her misdeeds. There's no question, as the study's authors admit, that rearing is the most important variable in determining a child's future behavior patterns. When kids with uneven response systems do not suffer through the implied problems at home, they often have no problem refraining from disruptive or abusive behaviors while approaching adulthood. Despite repeated studies conducted with the ultimate goal of rooting out the single uncontested cause of bad behavior in young people, the ultimate conclusion is almost always the same: while some are, for various reasons, predisposed to self-centered, disruptive behaviors, parental guidance, or lack thereof, will (almost) always turn the tide.

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