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Support for religio-political aggression among teenaged boys in Gaza: Part II: Neuroendocrinological findings



Hormones seem to play important roles in the regulation of human aggression. Multiple studies have confirmed that testosterone (T) levels exhibit complex relationships with aggression, dominance, and/or risk-taking behavior. Some evidence suggests that cortisol (CORT) interacts with T and may also be associated with aspects of mood and aggression. However, almost no research to date has investigated the possibility that these neuroendocrine factors are associated with variations in political attitudes or with political aggression. During the second intifada, we tested the hypothesis that morning salivary T and/or salivary CORT levels might be associated with self-rated aggression or with support for religio-political aggression (RPA) among 14-year-old Palestinian boys living in Gaza. We obtained and averaged weekly 09:00 hr salivary measures of T and CORT for more than 1 month. Averaged morning T levels did not correlate with self-rated aggression, but were positively associated with agreement with the statement “religious ends justify any means,” (r = .355, P = .014) and marginally associated with a composite measure of support for RPA (r = .247, P = .094). Average CORT levels were inversely correlated with self-rated aggression (r = −.328, P = .037) and with anger (r = −.373, P = .016), but CORT levels were not associated with support for RPA or with the statement “religious ends justify any means.” Acknowledging that a modest sample size and methodological issues necessarily limit confidence in our conclusions, these results may represent the first findings regarding neurobiological correlates of support for political aggression. Aggr. Behav. 37:121–132, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.