Antisocial behaviour among young men may be a form of mental illness linked to reduced levels of stress hormone, a study has suggested.
Scientists at Cambridge University believe a lack of the hormone cortisol could be linked to adolescent males becoming unruly.
They said cortisol usually increases when people undergo the anxiety of experiences such as public speaking, sitting an exam or having surgery.
The hormone enhances memory formation and is thought to help people behave more cautiously and regulate their emotions, particularly their temper and violent impulses, the scientists said.
The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, showed that disruptive male youths did not produce the same increase in cortisol when placed in a stressful situation.
This suggested that some cases of antisocial behaviour may be a form of mental illness caused by a chemical imbalance of cortisol in the brain and body, the scientists said.
Lead researcher Dr Graeme Fairchild said: "If we can figure out precisely what underlies the inability to show a normal stress response, we may be able to design new treatments for severe behaviour problems. We may also be able to create targeted interventions for those at higher risk."
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