Response to stress and child personality

A child's hormonal responses to stress could help shape their outward personality, new research has shown. The study, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, looked at whether children are a 'dove' or a 'hawk' when it comes to their behaviour.

Patrick Davies, Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester - which houses around 9,300 students and more than 200 academic majors - and lead author of the study, noted kids who act as a dove are often submissive and cautious, while those who are hawkish tend to be bolder.

Professor Davies noted: "Divergent reactions – both behaviourally and chemically – may be an evolutionary response to stress. These biological reactions may have provided our human ancestors with adaptive survival advantages."

He explained either outlook can have its benefits, noting compliance might work best in some difficult family occasions, while being brave can be a strong asset for other young people.

Dr Caroline Schuster, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "Responses to stress do shape a child's personality. The kind of care we received as children will inform the type of attachment we have with our romantic partners in adult life. 

"Different attachment styles lead to either a lesser or greater stress response in the child. I regularly see this borne out in my own work with patients. Those who experienced non-secure attachment as a child, present more often with some form of anxiety disorder e.g. separation anxiety or GAD (General Anxiety Disorder). 

"As non-secure attachment causes an increase in anxiety/fear, we can assume that children who have experienced such attachment, would experience higher stress hormone levels. 

"Therefore, Professor Davies' research certainly has direct implications for the treatment of disorders that stem from childhood experience. It also indirectly informs us about the potential long term outcomes of parenting styles and related stress reactions in children. As ever, more research is needed in this area."