The test monitors alpha amylase, an enzyme secreted by the salivary glands, that has been linked in adults to the sympathetic nervous system's (SNS) fight or flight response. Now, in these new studies, alpha amylase has been shown to be a marker for the SNS response in children, too.
The current findings suggest that social forces largely determine individual differences in alpha amylase levels. The social stressors used in the studies included babies being gently restrained by a stranger and the older children having to complete a frustrating task, interact with a teacher, or be evaluated. Social relationships with mothers and teachers were also found to influence alpha amylase levels.
Dr. Douglas A. Granger, associate professor of biobehavioral health and human development and family studies at Penn State, is first author of the teams' recently published paper on the study. He says, "Being able to monitor alpha amylase via a salivary test may open new opportunities to characterize individual differences in response to stress that we weren't able to see before. We think that these differences could prove to be meaningful in understanding behavior."
The four studies are detailed in an invited paper, "Integrating the Measurement of Salivary Alpha-Amylase into Studies of Child Health, Development and Social Relationships," in a special issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships published in April. The authors are Granger, Katie T. Kivlighan, doctoral candidate in biobehavioral health, and Dr. Clancy Blair, associate professor of human development and family studies, all at Penn State; Mona El-Sheikh, Jacquelyn Miz
Contact: Barbara Hale