Cortisol Moderates the Relationship between Testosterone and Aggression in Delinquent Male Adolescents

Arne Popma, Robert Vermeiren, Charlotte A.M.L. Geluk, Thomas Rinne, Wim van den Brink, Dirk L. Knol, Lucres M.C. Jansen, Herman van Engeland, Theo A.H. Doreleijers

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Background: In animals, strong evidence exists for an association between testosterone and aggression. In humans, and particularly in children and adolescents, findings have been less consistent. Previous research has suggested that this may partly be due to moderating effects of other factors, e.g., hormones. This study aims to investigate the moderating effect of cortisol on the relationship between testosterone and subtypes of aggression in delinquent male adolescents. Methods: Participants were 103 boys (mean age 13.7) referred to a delinquency diversion program. Testosterone and cortisol levels were determined from saliva samples collected during resting conditions and related to self-report scores on overt and covert aggression. Results: Linear regression analyses revealed a significant interaction between cortisol and testosterone in relation to overt aggression, with a significant positive relationship between testosterone and overt aggression in subjects with low cortisol levels but not in subjects with high cortisol levels. Using the same model for covert aggression, no significant effects of testosterone, cortisol, or testosterone × cortisol interaction were found. Conclusions: These results indicate a moderating effect of cortisol on the relationship between testosterone and overt aggression in delinquent male adolescents. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-411
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2007


  • Aggression
  • conduct disorder
  • cortisol
  • hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis
  • saliva
  • testosterone

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