, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 155-163

Exposure to violence and cardiovascular and neuroendocrine measures in adolescents

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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.

This research was supported by the Division 38 graduate student research award in Health Psychology (American Psychological Association), the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and theWilliam T. Grant Foundation.