Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 155-163

First online:

Exposure to violence and cardiovascular and neuroendocrine measures in adolescents

  • Rama MuraliAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of British Columbia
  • , Edith ChenAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of British Columbia

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Background: Exposure to violence has clear, detrimental psychological consequences, but the physiological effects are less well understood.Purpose: This study examined the influence of exposure to violence on biological basal and reactivity measures in adolescents.Methods: There were 115 high school student participants. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure (SBP, DBP), heart rate (HR), HR variability (HRV), and cortisol levels were recorded during baseline and a laboratory stressor. The Exposure to Violence interview was administered and assessed two dimensions: total observed violence and total personally experienced violence. These were then divided into component parts: lifetime frequency, proximity, and severity.Results: Greater total experienced violence was associated with increased basal SBP (r = .19, p < .05) and decreased acute stress reactivity in terms of SBP (β =−.13, p = .05), HR (β =−.21, p = .00), and HRV (β = .13, p = .05). Lifetime frequency of experienced violence was associated with higher basal DBP (r = .33, p < .05), HR (r = .33, p < .05), and cortisol (r = .53, p < .00), and decreased SBP (β = −.27, p < .05) and DBP (β = −.31, p < .05) reactivity. Exposure to violence is associated with increased biological basal levels in adolescents, supporting allostatic-load research and decreased cardiovascular reactivity, supporting the inoculation effect.Conclusions: The findings illustrate that being a victim of violence has more pervasive biological consequences than witnessing violence and that the accumulation of stressful experiences has the greatest effect on biological markers.