A study just found weird evidence that a stressful childhood affects you forever.

We know your relationship with your parents can affect a lot about who you are as you grow up. But is it possible that the good and bad of that relationship could actually show up in your saliva?

That's the bizarre-but-important question a team of researchers recently asked, the results of which were published in Developmental Science.

Led by Elizabeth Shirtcliff, an associate professor from Iowa State University who studies early childhood adversity, the study gathered 300 8th-grade kids and used a simple survey to determine some basic facts about their parents. The kids were asked things like whether they were close with their parents and how often positive reinforcement was used in their household.


The team was looking for signs of what they called "positive parenting, attachment, and bonding."

Six years later, the kids — now adults — were brought back in for a strange follow-up. The researchers collected a dozen different samples of their saliva.

It sounds a little gross, but they were looking for something important: the presence of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is crucial to our overall well-being. Lower levels of cortisol are correlated with fatigue, mood swings, and muscle loss, for example. Higher levels of cortisol correlate with healthy blood pressure levels and better immune system function (though extremely high levels are a health risk).

For this study, cortisol was particularly important because it plays a big role in how we process and react to stress. When we're faced with extreme stress or danger, cortisol floods our bodies, resulting in the "fight or flight," response.

The study's authors observed that people who are generally more stressed over longer periods of time, however, often show lower cortisol levels — almost like they get accustomed to all that stress over time and have a lesser reaction to it. While this might sound like a good thing, as far as your health goes, it's definitely not.

The results of the study were clear: The more signs the kids showed of a positive bond with their parents when they were young, the better their cortisol functioned in adulthood.

The more signs of positive parenting, attachment, and bonding that were present in childhood, the better the cortisol functioning turns out to be in adulthood. Image from "Visual Abstract 12.19" by Ben Shirtcliff/YouTube.

That's a good thing, the researchers suggest, because it helps keep kids alert and sensitive to all of the stimuli and information swirling around them from day to day, rather than having a blunted response to stressors and life in general.

So having great parents who use positive parenting methods is a good thing. Yay!

But the study had an important twist when it came to looking at racial demographics.

When race differences were accounted for — about half the kids were black and half were white — the cortisol correlation didn't hold up.

On average, the study found, white and black parents were equally likely to have a positive bond with their kids. But parenting styles aren't the only thing that can affect stress levels and kids' response to it.

Many of the white students in the study may have benefited from "low stress, resource-rich contexts which unfortunately may be less common for black youth," the researchers explained.

It's also worth noting that many groups — including black people of people Jewish descent — carry biological markers of trauma from previous generations (i.e., slavery, the Holocaust), which can also affect cortisol response.

Image via visual abstract by Ben Shirtcliff/YouTube

In other words, growing up with various socioeconomic and other hardships does indeed have a lifelong impact, and now we've got the beakers full of saliva (so to speak) to prove it.

This is important work. It proves that, in many cases, being a great parent can actually physically manifest itself in kids growing up to be well-adjusted and adaptable.

Being a loving parent can actually have a biological impact on your kids years and years later. That's amazing!

Perhaps most importantly, however, it shows a glaring need for kids — particularly those belonging to marginalized or disadvantaged groups — to get better support in the form of solid education, safe communities to grow up in, and more opportunities to learn and grow.

Having great parents isn't always enough to overcome a world that seems to be stacked against you, but it certainly helps.

True
Back Market

Between the new normal that is working from home and e-learning for students of all ages, having functional electronic devices is extremely important. But that doesn't mean needing to run out and buy the latest and greatest model. In fact, this cycle of constantly upgrading our devices to keep up with the newest technology is an incredibly dangerous habit.

The amount of e-waste we produce each year is growing at an increasing rate, and the improper treatment and disposal of this waste is harmful to both human health and the planet.

So what's the solution? While no one expects you to stop purchasing new phones, laptops, and other devices, what you can do is consider where you're purchasing them from and how often in order to help improve the planet for future generations.

Keep Reading Show less

Biases, stereotypes, prejudices—these byproducts of the human brain's natural tendency to generalize and categorize have been a root cause of most of humanity's problems for, well, pretty much ever. None of us is immune to those tendencies, and since they can easily slip in unnoticed, we all have to be aware of where, when, and how they impact our own beliefs and actions.

It also helps when someone upends a stereotype by saying or doing something unexpected.

Fair or not, certain parts of the U.S. are associated with certain cultural assumptions, perhaps none more pinholed than the rural south. When we hear Appalachia, a certain stereotype probably pops up in our minds—probably white, probably not well educated, probably racist. Even if there is some basis to a stereotype, we must always remember that human beings can never be painted with such broad strokes.

Enter Tyler Childers, a rising country music star whose old-school country fiddling has endeared him to a broad audience, but his new album may have a different kind of reach. "Long Violent History" was released Friday, along with a video message to his white rural fans explaining the culminating track by the same name. Watch it here:

Keep Reading Show less
True
Back Market

Between the new normal that is working from home and e-learning for students of all ages, having functional electronic devices is extremely important. But that doesn't mean needing to run out and buy the latest and greatest model. In fact, this cycle of constantly upgrading our devices to keep up with the newest technology is an incredibly dangerous habit.

The amount of e-waste we produce each year is growing at an increasing rate, and the improper treatment and disposal of this waste is harmful to both human health and the planet.

So what's the solution? While no one expects you to stop purchasing new phones, laptops, and other devices, what you can do is consider where you're purchasing them from and how often in order to help improve the planet for future generations.

Keep Reading Show less

The legality of abortion is one of the most polarized debates in America—but it doesn’t have to be.

People have big feelings about abortion, which is understandable. On one hand, you have people who feel that abortion is a fundamental women’s rights issue, that our bodily autonomy is not something you can legislate, and that those who oppose abortion rights are trying to control women through oppressive legislation. On the other, you have folks who believe that a fetus is a human individual first and foremost, that no one has the right to terminate a human life, and that those who support abortion rights are heartless murderers.

Then there are those of us in the messy middle. Those who believe that life begins at conception, that abortion isn’t something we’d choose—and we’d hope others wouldn’t choose—under most circumstances, yet who choose to vote to keep abortion legal.

Keep Reading Show less
@frajds / Twitter

Father Alek Schrenk is known as one of the "9 Priests You Need to Follow on Twitter." He proved his social media skills Sunday night after finding a creepy note on a parked car and weaving a lurid Twitter tale that kept his followers on the edge of their pews.

Father Schrenk was making his nightly walk of the church grounds to make sure everything was fine before retiring to the rectory, when he found a car parked by itself in front of the school.

Curious, he looked inside the car and saw a note that made his "blood run cold" attached to the steering wheel. "Look in trunk!" the note read. What made it extra creepy was that the two Os in "look" had smiley faces.

Keep Reading Show less