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Stress Hormone, Cortisol, Tied to Teens’ Car Accident Risk

Update Date: Apr 08, 2014 02:46 PM EDT

Even though stress might be perceived as something bad, several studies have found that how people deal with stress determines whether or not stress will negatively or positively affect their life and overall health. According to a new study, teenagers who are less affected by stressful situations have a greater risk of getting into car accidents.

The researchers headed by Marie Claude Ouimet, an associate professor of medicine and health sciences at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada recruited 42 16-year-old children from the United States. For the first year and a half after the teenagers received their driver's licenses, the researchers tracked their stress response and frequency of accidents.

The researchers measured the teenagers' stress levels, also known as cortisol levels, before and after they had to complete a series of math problems. Researchers added stress to the situation by telling the teenagers that whoever gets the highest score would earn $60. The researchers measured the teenagers' cortisol levels via saliva samples. Based on these measurements, the researchers were able to estimate each individual's response to stress.

After recording each person's stress levels and body's response to stress, the researchers instructed the teenagers to drive normally in cars that were equipped with sensors, camera and GPS. The researchers used these devices to track how the teenagers drove. They found that teenagers who had higher cortisol levels in response to stress were less likely to get into a car crash. They were also less likely to get into a near-crash situation. Gender did not influence car accident risk in this study.

"This might help explain why some people are more predisposed to risk and less able to change their behavior as a result of experience," Ouimet said according to Philly. "If you do not experience stress in a stressful situation, then maybe it means that if you're very stressed you're more likely to learn from that experience and not want to repeat it."

The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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