Callous-unemotional traits and early life stress predict treatment effects on stress and sex hormone functioning in incarcerated male adolescents

Megan Johnson, Michael J Vitacco, Elizabeth A. Shirtcliff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


The stress response system is highly plastic, and hormone rhythms may “adaptively calibrate” in response to treatment. This investigation assessed whether stress and sex hormone diurnal rhythms changed over the course of behavioral treatment, and whether callous-unemotional (CU) traits and history of early adversity affected treatment results on diurnal hormone functioning in a sample of 28 incarcerated adolescent males. It was hypothesized that the treatment would have beneficial effects, such that healthier diurnal rhythms would emerge post-treatment. Diurnal cortisol, testosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) were sampled two weeks after admission to the correctional/treatment facility, and again approximately four months later. Positive treatment effects were detected for the whole sample, such that testosterone dampened across treatment. CU traits predicted a non-optimal hormone response to treatment, potentially indicating biological preparedness to respond to acts of social dominance and aggression. The interaction between CU traits and adversity predicted a promising and sensitized response to treatment including increased cortisol and a steeper testosterone drop across treatment. Results suggest that stress and sex hormones are highly receptive to treatment during this window of development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-118
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 4 2018



  • Callous-unemotional
  • DHEA
  • adversity
  • cortisol
  • incarcerated
  • testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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