Today I am writing about a topic on the hearts and minds of many parents, myself included. It is probably one of the most challenging, frustrating, but rewarding periods that all parents will face at one time or another; in some form or another. The day will come when you will be sitting at your dinner table with your family and become suddenly aware that your son or daughter has been replaced by a stranger. Even though it would seem that little has changed in the day to day activities, with the familiar faces and routines of your family, it will descend on you without warning.
For some parents, the changes may seem gradual. But for others, it may appear as if the only remaining evidence of your dear child are features that federal agents could use to identify them through their physical remains. However, what is important to understand is that as your growing child moves through common stages toward adulthood, their behaviors are the sum of their particular environment, both outside and inside their skin.
Between these environmental forces, the least understood and yet most influential by far is the climate within (or under) our skin. It is very complex and beautifully synchronous team of biochemical and molecularly organized structures that operate independently, yet together for the whole body. Everything within the internal environment is there for a reason. Every part from the greatest to the smallest, mobile to fixed, weaved or fragmented has a role and would not be there without serving some purpose. One role which is often a focus of behavioral sciences is that of communication, that is how the parts “talk” to each other. This is where you may have heard the term, “chemical messengers”. This refers to the wide array of signaling methods cells use to communicate top-down instructions on what to do and when to do it.
One way in which communication is carried out is a type of “public broadcast message” via hormone influence. Hormones are much like a common cell to cell interactions, but hormones target a very wide population of cell sets and stir various role-specific groups to fulfill a particular job for a particular need. As a system wide message has many important targets, the announcement must be loud, clear and lasting. In other words, unlike a neurotransmitter that makes you move your arm, the message must be loud enough, specific and last long enough to assure every player is on board with the same objective. You could say that it is much like the horns and sirens alerting the city of an oncoming tornado, where emergency crews, support teams, and families make the necessary preparations in order to secure wellbeing. The article I will be introducing is about two such hormone messengers, testosterone, and cortisol.
Since #stress is such a profound issue in adolescence, let us just mention this first. As #children develop toward independent and responsible adults, they will have to pass through a very difficult transition where their world is completely reframed. They understand their environment through the eyes of their parents. They emerge into a large society of many other individuals where they lack significance and meaningfulness beyond “who they are” as children of their parents. It is through their groups and select friends that they become unique as a separate entity, therefore more meaningful and significant. But these associations are not without bruises and bumps to their sprouting young ego. This is often where kids become more abrasive with others especially those in authority and challenge the important values they were taught from youth.
It is important to understand that attitudes and actions are not generally motivated by a hurtful intention. It is a desperate attempt to become unique in a world of others; to be an individual and therefore to be special and meaningful. Sometimes, this may even mean having to reject everything and everyone they know close to them just to see what remains, which helps define “who they are”.
In order to better understand the magnitude of stress that a #teenager faces, we must consider that they are experiencing significant changes in their own physical development and these changes impact their evolving self-regard through family, school, and social group dynamics.
When stress is experienced we are wired to prepare for some form of adaptive action. This means our minds and body need to fall back on a base level program in our DNA that is designed for survival in the face of potential threats. Through “perceived” dangers, our #brain relates a message that the pituitary gland must amplify for “full alert” to the entire body. It releases a hormone trigger (ACTH) that quickly stirs the adrenal cortex (along the top of our kidneys) to send out the alert through cortisol.
High levels of cortisol produce a hyperactive sense of “fight or escape”. The body becomes completely dedicated at that point to return to a comfort balance, either through confrontation or avoidance.
Now we shift our spotlight to Testosterone. Yes, ladies, you have some of this stuff too. However, it usually is fed forward toward modification as an estrogen precursor. So, this topic is relevant to both genders.
Testosterone fuels our “stress prepared” body toward a direct action. It is aligned and in complete agreement with the cortisol signal, that is to return to a state of comfort. Therefore if there is an action which we may believe to be effective to restore comfort, then such an action is then presented to our “judgment command center” for consideration.
If the level of stress is high, the tentative action regardless of consequence is more likely to be chosen. If the choice leads to undesired consequences or punishment, then testosterone is postured to remove some of the stings from the hard consequences.
Now for the sake of clarity, consider the following example.
Let us say you were not responsible enough to prepare for a school final exam which was to be administered in class the next day. You were talking with one of your peers and discovered that it was going to be over half of your class grade. You were already fighting to keep your grades up in other classes and knew that a failing grade on the exam would mean you would fail the year. The cortisol would be broadcasting an alert throughout your body. You are feeling a sense of desperation and then think about ANY action to achieve a passing grade.
You believe you are honest and would never consider cheating. Then judgment gets an option which can likely restore balance. Testosterone sends a message. I do not believe in cheating…But..the stakes are high…it is only one time…what if…
That is the mechanism. See how it played out?
Now, one last comment. You will see in the article how this scenario does not end in unethical considerations when stress generated cortisol is decreased. Translated in biological terms, this means by preparing correctly and responsibly or even by seeing less stress in a course of action, will likely assure choices which are aligned to be more ethical and responsible.
In terms of a “misbehaving” adolescence, it may be far more helpful to understand the stressors they are facing and help them to effectively and responsibly meet their challenges instead of passing judgments on their” bad ” behavior. By aligning with their strength we can shoulder them and guide them more effectively. If all we do is only pass judgment on their choices, we add to their wagon of stressors and then become part of the problem and not part of the solution & their strength. In this way, good parents can keep from being held responsible for driving their kids into delinquent behavior.
Have a good day, friends.
Hormones influence unethical behavior | EurekAlert! #Science News
Public Release: 28-Jul-2015 Hormones influence unethical behavior
University of Texas at Austin
AUSTIN, Texas — Hormones play a two-part role in encouraging and reinforcing cheating and other unethical behavior, according to research from Harvard University and The University of Texas at Austin.
With cheating scandals a persistent threat on college campuses and financial fraud costing businesses more than $3.7 trillion annually, UT Austin and Harvard researchers looked to hormones for more answers, specifically the reproductive hormone testosterone and the stress hormone cortisol.
According to the study, the endocrine system plays a dual role in unethical acts. First, elevated hormone levels predict likelihood of cheating. Then, a change of hormone levels during the act reinforces the behavior.
“Although the science of hormones and behavior dates back to the early 19th century, only recently has research revealed just how powerful and pervasive the influence of the endocrine system is on human behavior,” said the corresponding author and UT Austin professor of #psychology Robert Josephs.
Researchers asked 117 participants to complete a math test, grade it themselves and self-report the number of correctly completed problems. The more problems they got correct, the more money they would earn.
From salivary samples collected before and after the test, researchers found that individuals with elevated levels of testosterone and cortisol were more likely to overstate the number of correctly solved problems.
“Elevated testosterone decreases the fear of punishment while increasing sensitivity to reward. Elevated cortisol is linked to an uncomfortable state of chronic stress that can be extremely debilitating,” Josephs said. “Testosterone furnishes the courage to cheat, and elevated cortisol provides a reason to cheat.”
Additionally, participants who cheated showed lowered levels of cortisol and reported reductions in emotional distress after the test, as if cheating provided some sort of stress relief.
“The stress reduction is accompanied by a powerful stimulation of the reward centers in the brain, so these physiological psychological changes have the unfortunate consequence of reinforcing the unethical behavior,” Josephs said.
Because neither hormone without the other predicted unethical behavior, lowering levels of either hormone may prevent unethical episodes. Prior research shows that tasks that reward groups rather than individuals can eliminate the influence of testosterone on performance; and, many stress relieving techniques such as yoga, meditation and exercise reduce levels of cortisol, Josephs said.
“The take-home message from our studies is that appeals based on ethics and morality — the carrot approach — and those based on threats of punishment — the stick approach — may not be effective in preventing cheating,” Josephs said. “By understanding the underlying causal mechanism of cheating, we might be able to design interventions that are both novel and effective.”
The UT Austin and Harvard study “Hormones and ethics: Understanding the biological basis of unethical conduct” will be published in the August 2015 edition of Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
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