BOSTON, MA — Long-term studies of child development indicate that
some people remain psychologically healthy despite years of severe
deprivation and trauma. Researchers are now studying the
characteristics and circumstances surrounding the ability to endure
stress and bounce back—a quality they call resilience, reports the
December 2006 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
to stress is a complex process that involves many interacting
influences. Social and family environment have received most of the
attention, but advances in genetics, psychopharmacology, and brain
imaging now permit closer study of the biological underpinnings of
A promising line of research
involves interactions between early experience and genetically
determined neurobiology. Low levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), an
enzyme that breaks down several neurotransmitters, have been linked to
aggression in mice and humans. The gene that produces this enzyme has
short and long forms, and the short form is less efficient. In a
long-term study in New Zealand, maltreated boys with the short gene
were more likely than those with the long variant to commit violent
crimes and to score high on measures of aggressive tendencies.
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