A new study identifies “dove” and “hawk” personalities in children based on their hormonal reaction to stress. Doves tend to be more cautious while hawks act in more aggressive ways, and researchers believe that these behavior patterns help children adapt to and overcome threatening and difficult experiences. “Divergent reactions both behaviorally and chemically may be an evolutionary response to stress,” says lead author of the study, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, Patrick Davies. “These biological reactions may have provided our human ancestors with adaptive survival advantages. For example, dovish compliance may work better under some challenging family conditions, while hawkish aggression could be an asset in others.”
Melissa Sturge-Apple, coauthor of the study, says, “When it comes to healthy psychological behavior, one size does not fit all.” Sturge-Apple, an assistant professor of psychology, also believes that these results “give us insight into how basic behavioral patterns are also chemical patterns.” The researchers examined the behaviors of over two hundred toddlers who were in families with low economic status and regular exposure to aggression in the home. Davies adds, “Research has shown that exposure to repeated aggression between parents is a significant stressor for children.” The study revealed that children who were doves were very timid and clingy when introduced to new experiences, whereas hawks behaved in more aggressive ways in order to cope. Additionally, the study showed that the dove personalities had higher levels of cortisol, indicating a higher stress level, when exposed to aggression between their parents.
The researchers believe that these findings reveal that each personality’s reaction offers unique advantages and disadvantages to adapting and coping. The doves, who had elevated levels of cortisol, were more at risk for attention problems and depression and anxiety. But the low cortisol levels evident in the hawks were linked to increased aggression, risk taking and attention and hyperactivity issues.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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