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When Aggression is Protective: The Health Benefits of Destructive Behavior During Adversity

Behaviors such as bullying or stealing are usually considered destructive. Moreover, these types of behaviors are more likely to be seen in children who grow up with more adversity. Once thought as maladaptive, recent research suggests there may be some important benefits in certain contexts. Evolutionary approaches suggest that these behaviors are important for survival. In addition, there is some evidence that aggression can lower stress levels. For example, in multiple rat studies, researchers have found that biting suppresses the stress-induced chemical and hormonal response in the brain and body. Destructive behavior in general can also increase access to resources in some contexts, such as material goods gained from stealing or social status and sexual opportunity from aggression.

Given this body of work, Dr. Stacey Doan and colleagues wondered whether destructive and disobedient behavior, with its survival value in harsher contexts and effect on stress, might influence the physical health of those facing early adversity. The researchers surveyed 260 children on various risk factors for adversity and measured their chronic stress, also known as allostatic load, through urine samples, body mass index measurements, and blood pressure readings. Their guardians were also surveyed on various behaviors of the children, such as stealing, destruction of property, disobedience, and bullying.

The researchers found that these destructive behaviors can buffer the effect of adversity on physical health. In other words, among those with high levels of adversity, those who are destructive or disobedient show less wear and tear physiologically than those who are less destructive. They also found that these findings are more pronounced for men than for women. This gender difference was thought to be due to the idea that aggression is more encouraged and accepted in males than females.

This research, to be published soon in Nature: Scientific Reports, is an exciting step forward in understanding these behaviors more holistically and how they may contribute to the regulation of stress. Future researchers can build off of this new line of research and pave the way for more informed and effective interventions.

Meet the Berger Institute at the CMC Club & Institute Fair

The Berger Institute will be hosting a booth at the CMC Club and Institute Fair on Friday, September 6 on Parents Field at CMC. Come learn about our exciting research initiatives and programs, and speak with current staff and students about their experiences. We are advertising for two positions for Fall 2019:

Office Assistant

Deadline: Friday, September 20
Eligibility: CMC first-years, sophomores, and juniors

Volunteer Research Assistant

Deadline: Friday, September 20
Eligibility: 5C sophomores and juniors. Must be willing to commit 6 hours per week over one (1) academic year.

Resilience and Connections with Sleep and Health

Despite the fact that many children grow up in poverty, many exhibit resilience, or successful adaptation and competence. Recent data, however, has also shown that adaptation in the face of adversity often comes at a health cost. At the same time, there is much we do not know. Why does resilience lead to health cost? How can we mitigate these consequences?

With a generous grant from the National Institute of Health, the Berger Institute’s Applied Mind and Health lab is collaborating with the University of California, Riverside’s Adversity and Adaptation lab, directed by Dr. Tuppet Yates, to answer some of these questions. Dr. Doan and Dr. Yates have started gathering and analyzing data on a large, longitudinal study looking at a diverse sample, including 46% Latinx youth, ages 4-14. The data set followed 250 children and their caregivers through adolescence and examined stress, family, and personality characteristics. In addition, the grant funds new data at age 14, particularly sleep and health variables. Altogether they will assess children’s poverty-related risk exposure, academic competence, physical health, and sleep functioning. Adolescence is a critical period for identifying risk due to the lasting effect of health patterns that begin at this age. This study is an exciting move forward in learning more about this crucial time and what can be done in both research and practice to help these children and adolescents thrive.

Students and Staff from Berger Institute Engage Audiences at WPA Convention

Berger Institute researchers and students were excited to present their research April 25-27 at the 99th Annual Western Psychological Association (WPA) Convention in Pasadena. Presenting both through posters and talks, the Berger Institute researchers engaged attendees with topics ranging from effects of maternal behavior to children’s helping behaviors to connections between physical health, mental health, and race. Students and recent alumni had the opportunity to share their research and practice discussing their research professionally to a wide audience. In addition, students attending the conference had the opportunity to learn about new research and network.

In addition to multiple posters, the Berger staff and students presented a series of talks focused on parenting behaviors and emotion regulation in both parents and children. The presentation ended with a lively Q&A with several questions from researchers, students, and even practitioners who were in the audience. For more information on recent research from Berger Institute staff and students, click here.

Berger students

APIDA Panel Addresses Mental Health on Campus

On Thursday, April 11th, a panel of CMC faculty and staff came together to discuss Asian mental health and identity with the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community on campus. Any other interested students, faculty, and staff were welcomed as well. Co-hosted by the Asian Pacific American Mentors (APAM) and the Berger Institute, the event was created to bring awareness to the issue, especially in light of recent events on campus. Panelists had friendly and informal discussions with attendees over dinner at the Athenaeum and then dived into more formal discussions on mental health. Topics revolved around how APIDA communities and 7C’s students respond to mental health issues, how having faculty of color on campus benefits the students, and strategies to help improve well-being. To keep track of future panels and events through the Berger Institute, follow us here. For more information on APAM, click here. For mental health resources on campus, visit the 7C’s Monsour Counseling Services site here.

Special thanks to our contributors: Anushree Belur, Courtney Chan, Wei-Chin Hwang, Michael Chen, and Gayle Lee!