Children with a history of trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been shown to have significantly higher heart rate reactivity following exposure to personal trauma related stimuli as compared to children without PTSD (Perry, 1994; Saltzman et al., 2005). Studies have also found that trauma-exposure in youth is associated with reactive aggression but not proactive aggression. Together these findings suggest that physiological reactivity and perception of threat might be related to the higher rates of aggression and delinquency reported among trauma- exposed youth. The sympathetic activity of the cardiovascular system is central to the fight-flight response that is often activatd by appraisals of threat. This system has been shown to be over-active in adults with PTSD. However, few studies have examined autonomic and neuroendocrine reactivity to acute stress and provocation among adolescents with a history of trauma exposure and post trauma symptoms. The proposed research takes a multi-system approach, examining physiological stress reactivity and reactive aggression among 14 to 19 year-old youth, primarily African American and Latino youth. At completion the findings will further our understanding of the developmental aspects of stress and trauma response. A greater understanding of the effects of stress and trauma on development is particularly important for minority youth given the disproportionate rates of trauma exposure and trauma symptoms reported in the extant literature.
Increasing our knowledge of post-trauma physiological reactivity and behavioral reactivity will build the evidence needed for a public health response to the cycle of violence (youth violence exposure and violence reenactment). In fact, increasing our understanding of physiological reactivity (and lack of reactivity) to acute stress and provocation might be the cornerstone of understanding one developmental pathway by which youth exposed to trauma develop an increased risk for aggressive behaviors, particularly reactive aggressive behaviors that disproportionately result in a cascade effect towards juvenile justice involvement for Black and Latino youth. A culturally informed public health response to violence exposure and violent behaviors should help to promote a culture of health and decrease justice involvement that is often observed among trauma-exposed youth. .