Developmental psychobiology

Experiences in the military may impact dual-axis neuroendocrine processes in veterans.

PMID 25273377


Military stressors such as survival training can affect endocrine functioning in the short term, and combat has been associated with endocrine changes linked to psychopathology. However, studies with military samples examining whether there are individual differences in these changes as part of normal development, or as an adaptive mechanism in adulthood are lacking. This study examined whether exposure to combat in a sample of veterans was associated with differential endocrine activity to a laboratory frustration task. Results indicated that Army veterans demonstrated significant testosterone reactivity to frustration and negative coupling between cortisol and testosterone. Alternatively, Navy and Marine veterans demonstrated little testosterone reactivity to frustration and positive coupling between cortisol and testosterone. Positive cortisol-testosterone coupling was stronger among individuals who had more dangerous combat experiences. This latter pattern may better prepare individuals for stressful life experiences and supports the contention that adulthood stressors may calibrate endocrine systems. Results are explained in the context of the Adaptive Calibration Model (Ellis et al., 2012, Developmental Psychology, 48(3), 598-623) which proposes that exposure to key environmental dimensions during endocrinologically malleable life stages (e.g., puberty) can change stress responsivity, resulting in a faster life history trajectory (e.g., increased risk-taking and aggression).