To address gaps in the literature related to the contribution of childhood trauma on aggression, we evaluated salivary cortisol and heart rate changes to psychological challenge in aggressive children with various degrees of trauma. We hypothesized that traumatized and aggressive youths will exhibit higher responsiveness to an active challenge (Violent film-VF) than aggressive youth with no trauma but will not differ when viewing a Non-Violent film (NVF). A total of 25 children (aged 9-12; M=15, F=9) with history of aggression were assessed for trauma exposure. Children viewed the two films in randomized order. Four salivary cortisol and pulse measurements were obtained before (T1), 15 min after the start (T2), at the end (T3), and 15 min following the end of the movie (T4). Repeated measures Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) using Film (VF/NVF), Cortisol/Time at T1-T4, Group (Trauma/Non-Trauma), and Film Order were performed with age and gender as covariates. There were significant main effects for Group and Cortisol/Time for the Trauma group showing greater cortisol responsiveness than the Non-Trauma group that was most pronounced during the NVF. These results suggest that aggressive youth with personal history of trauma may exhibit unique biological characteristics, which may have important implications for classification and treatment.
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