Children’s Response to Stress May Determine Their Personality Types

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 John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • S dayton

    S dayton

    July 11th, 2011 at 11:35 PM

    Not all children are alike and how we react to things in our childhood often comes with is into adulthood and yes,the findings of this study seem to be spot on.

  • alma

    alma

    July 12th, 2011 at 4:32 AM

    I always see a lot of “mays” here in the article titles, but I think that for me this one is a fore gone conclusion. How you deal with stress growing up as a kid molds and shapes who you are. It forms your very self and how you think about things and how you deal with the things that life is going to throw at you. And of course the things that you witness as a child play a very heavy role in determining who you are going to be later in life. So again for me there was no need for the word “may” in the article title. It is what it is.

  • vivian wade

    vivian wade

    July 12th, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    It’s interesting that children who are considered doves, the clingy timid ones, have a higher cortisol level. Is that because they are keeping the stress inside? Hawks as it said display their stress with aggressive behavior which I suppose is a way of venting it at least partially.

  • Nina Brown

    Nina Brown

    July 12th, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    I consider myself more of a dove than a hawk. It depends on the circumstances mostly and who’s under attack which side of me surfaces. Have a go at me and I’m more likely to go from compromise than confrontation. Attack my children when it’s uncalled for and I’m very aggressive and protective in my response.

    Many have never seen the hawk side of me emerge and get a shock when they do because they have me marked down as a pushover and a people pleaser. They soon learn not to make that mistake twice…LOL.

  • PT

    PT

    July 12th, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    It would not be fully right to just classify kids into two categories.I’m sure there would be a lot o differences between two members of one single group and how each one of us reacts to stress is different and it’s the sane way for kids too.Watch your child but don’t have this ‘dove’ or ‘hawk’ prejudice growing in your mind.

  • CharlenE

    CharlenE

    July 12th, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    Too bad that kids have to face any stress at all but they do and we have to come up with ways that help them deal with stress in a healthy manner.
    Give them the tools that they need early will lead them to a better life down the road.

  • P.T. Kelly

    P.T. Kelly

    July 14th, 2011 at 8:53 PM

    @vivian wade–I wonder if the ones with high cortisol are the ones not allowed to express themselves, which is very hazardous to a child’s health. Too many children are told to keep quiet about everything and this just further infuriates them and adds on more stress instead of being able to voice their opinions.

  • W.S. Benjamin

    W.S. Benjamin

    July 15th, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    @Alma–You said it, girl. That can get on my nerves too. What’s the point of publishing some information if it’s going to be littered with buts and maybe’s? Researchers should give us definitive answers and until they know for sure, they can keep their opinions to themselves. If we want guesswork, we can guess ourselves.

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