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Adolescent Stress May Cause Adult Anxiety and Aggression

Do bullied adolescents turn into aggressive adults?
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

New research out of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has determined that early-life stress may cause anxiety and aggression in adults. Children and adolescents who have experienced what they may consider to be a hostile environment continue to feel the pressures of those early stressors when encountering negative situations when they have grown to adulthood.

The findings are not conclusive, however, because the resulting conclusions of many researchers indicate that it depends on the subject. Some seem to bounce back effectively from the early-life stress while others seem to hold onto the experiences and transfer them to future negative experiences.

The neuroscientists who conducted the current research concentrated on links between stress and the neuroendocrine system. HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis regulates stress hormones in the endocrine glands. These hormones include both corticotrophin and glucocorticoid. Both of these hormones are secreted during higher levels of stress. Findings by Dr. Enikolopov working with others at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, determined that hostility experienced by an adolescent can affect their ability to perform functionally in social situations once they have reached adulthood.

In the research, adolescent mice were exposed to aggressive older mice for a period of time each day. The mice who were effectively bullied by the more aggressive mice began to function with lower levels of social skill. They were unwilling to cohabitate with unfamiliar mice, showing distrust of the new arrivals. They also possessed lowered levels of communication with their peers. Some of these mice were then given a “rest” period until they reached equivalent adult age.

Even the mice who were not recently exposed to aggressive behavior displayed some of the lowered social potential of anxiousness and aggressiveness, although they did not present with the same antisocial or fearful behaviors of the peers who did not get the rest. Dr. Enikolopov has determined that mice who are bullied as adolescents have problems managing their emotional state as adults. Their ability to socialize with their peers becomes diminished as well.

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