Violence Exposure and Cortisol Responses in Urban Youth

Kliewer, Wendy
June 2006
International Journal of Behavioral Medicine;Jun2006, Vol. 13 Issue 2, p109
Academic Journal
I examined the physiological costs associated with exposure to violence in 101 African American youth (55% male; M age = 11.14 years) living in high-violence areas of a midsized southern city in the United States. Salivary cortisol was measured before and after a laboratory task (viewing and discussing a video depicting community violence) and on waking 1 morning in the week following the laboratory assessment. Overall, cortisol levels were low. Analyses controlling for age, gender, negative affect, and major life events revealed that peer victimization was associated with lower basal cortisol values obtained from home assessments. Witnessed violence predicted a cortisol awakening response (CAR) but only in girls; girls with a typical CAR had lower levels of witnessing violence than girls with an atypical pattern. Witnessed violence also was associated with lower baseline cortisol levels measured in the laboratory and with increases in cortisol from baseline to posttask for boys but not girls. Peer victimization was associated with increases in cortisol from pretask to posttask for both genders. I discuss implications for research and prevention.


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