Longitudinal associations in adolescence between cortisol and persistent aggressive or rule-breaking behavior

E. Platje, L.M.C. Jansen, A. Raine, S.T.J. Branje, Th.A.H. Doreleijers, M. de Vries-Bouw, A. Popma, P.A.C. van Lier, H.M. Koot, W.H.J. Meeus, R. Vermeiren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Although several studies have associated antisocial behavior with decreased cortisol awakening responses (CAR), studies in adolescent samples yielded inconsistent results. In adolescence however, the CAR develops and antisocial behavior is heterogeneous in type and persistence. Therefore this longitudinal study compared persistent aggressive and rule-breaking adolescents to low aggressive and rule-breaking adolescents on the development of the CAR from ages 15 to 17 (N = 390). Persistently high aggressive adolescents showed decreased cortisol levels at awakening consistently over the years (Δχ2(1) = 6.655, p = .01) as compared to low aggressive adolescents. No differences between adolescents showing persistent high rule-breaking and low rule-breaking were found. This longitudinal study is the first to show that persistent aggression, but not rule-breaking behavior, is related to neurobiological alterations. Moreover, despite development of the CAR over adolescence, the decrease in cortisol is consistent over time in persistent high aggressive adolescents, which is an important prerequisite for the prediction of persistent aggression.
► Persistent aggression in adolescence is related to low awakening cortisol levels
► Persistent rule-breaking in adolescence is not related to decreased cortisol levels
► Low awakening cortisol in persistent aggressive adolescents is consistent over time.
Keywords: Antisocial behavior, Aggression, Cortisol, Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, Adolescence, Longitudinal
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-137
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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