Objective: The purpose of this study was to establish, using a quasi-experimental design, whether 2 family risk factors, parental psychological dysfunction and nonsupportive parenting, during preadolescence could longitudinally predict elevated sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity 9 years later, and to determine whether participation in an efficacious family centered prevention program could moderate these associations if they emerged.
Method: Rural African American preadolescents (N = 476) were assigned randomly to the Strong African American Families (SAAF) program or to a control condition. When youths were 11 years of age (M = 11.2 years), primary caregivers provided data on their own depressive symptoms and self-esteem, and youths provided data on their receipt of nonsupportive parenting. When the youths were 20 years of age, indicators of SNS activity, the catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine, were assayed from their overnight urine voids.
Results: Parental psychological dysfunction and nonsupportive parenting forecast elevated catecholamine levels for youths in the control condition, but not for those in the SAAF condition.
Conclusions: The demonstration that a prevention program can induce reduction of catecholamine levels is important from both theoretical and public health perspectives, because it shows that the developmental progression from family risk factors to heightened sympathetic nervous system activity is not immutable.
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