Friday, May 22, 2009

Impulsive? Reactive? Aggressive? Get These Biomarkers Tested

image by lusi, sxc.hu

New Research Points The Way To Bring Aggression Under Control

You see that man in the crowd in the corner? Actually, you don't need to see him, you can hear him. His voice tears through the fabric of the hubbub like a sharp knife. Even a half-dozing person can sense the acidic aggression dripping from his body language. As if gearing up for a fight. Provoking the others to provoke him back. And here, look at this man, in this corner, slouching and sulking. But no, his face does not show that he is sulking - it looks as if he wants to blend in with the wall; he wants to become part of the brick-and-paint work.

image by ra3rn, sxc.hu

Social withdrawal and aggression are two extremes of the scale of social behavior. And as with all extremes, both these social-behavior traits are potentially harmful for the individual concerned. Whether you are in a family setting, a workplace setting, or a peer friendship setting, your behavior trait is like an aura around you, whose shine helps others decide how to approach you and interact with you. Somewhere in the process of growing up, we mix our DNA blueprint with our life-experiences and build this aura. This aura both protects us from any "threat" - physical and emotional - as well as also shackles us, for we rarely if ever step out of it.

image by sofamonkez, sxc.hu

Social aggression - of the intense kind - is known to fall into two types: Reactive, which is impulse-prone and emerges as a rebound reaction to stress; and Instrumental, which is totally preplanned, premeditated, and has no ingredient of emotion. While reactive aggression is normally found in the average Joe and Jane, instrumental aggression is the stuff that people who James Bond meets during the course of duty are made of.

image by spekulator, sxc.hu

Outcomes of the latest research appear to suggest that the chemicals that seemingly dictate both these types of social aggression have been identified. What are these chemicals? They say that our behavior is modulated by two chemicals: testosterone and cortisol. A study conducted on 103 teenage boys in a delinquency diversion program has found that overt aggressive behavior is found when the testosterone is high and the cortisol is low. People with high testosterone levels pay more attention to cues that can instigate confrontation. However, a correspondingly high level of cortisol counterbalances the urge to surge forward, for it instills the elements of fear and self-protection, and to some degree, empathy.

image by emospada, sxc.hu

An article published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry (available online here) takes one step further and suggests that the ratio of testosterone:cortisol be computed. When this ratio is high, then all bets are off, and it does not matter whether the aggression is reactive or instrumental or whatever. Such people are, in the words of the article-writers, a clear "danger to society". How high is "high"? Work is still in progress on this.

image by faberga, sxc.hu

The solution to handling aggression? The article-writers suggest that appropriate therapy be worked out which rectifies the imbalance between testosterone and cortisol levels in the body. May be a time will come when people can walk into the local lab and get their aggression levels tested. Based on the testosterone:cortisol ratio, they might be prescribed injections, to be administered once or twice a week for four weeks and then come back for a follow-up test. Law enforcers - and James Bond too - will carry a tranquilizer kit to handle people they encounter in their line of duty.

image by shelene, sxc.hu

[While waiting for the good doctors to develop those injections and pills, it might be a good idea to include in your regimen a perfectly-natural therapy that automatically restores and maintains the balance between the testosterone and cortisol levels. Here is one article that explains what this therapy is all about: "Workshop On Meditation - Exercising The Muscles Of The Mind".]

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