Male-female differences in effects of parental absence on glucocorticoid stress response

Human Nature 7 (2):125-162 (1996)
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Abstract

This study examines the family environments and hormone profiles of 316 individuals aged 2 months-58 years residing in a rural village on the east coast of Dominica, a former British colony in the West Indies. Fieldwork was conducted over an eight-year period (1988–1995). Research methods and techniques include radioimmunoassay of cortisol and testosterone from saliva samples (N=22,340), residence histories, behavioral observations of family interactions, extensive ethnographic interview and participant observation, psychological questionnaires, and medical examinations.Analyses of data indicate complex, sex-specific effects of family environment on endocrine function. Male endocrine profiles exhibit greater sensitivity to presence of father than do female endocrine profiles. Father-absent males tend to have (a) low cortisol levels during infancy, (b) high or abnormal cortisol profiles during childhood and adolescence, and (c) high cortisol and low testosterone levels during adulthood compared with those of males raised with a resident father. These results indicate that early family environment has significant effects on endocrine response throughout male life histories

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