Educators and government have promoted a concentrated effort to instill higher levels of self-control in economically and socially disadvantaged black teens in the United States. The programs have reduced the levels of substance abuse, depression, and aggressive behavior in black teens. Gregory E. Miller with the Department of Psychology and Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University and colleagues from the University of Georgia have found an unintended consequence of higher levels of self-control is premature cellular aging in black teens.
A group of 292 African-American teenagers from rural Georgia was tracked from the age of 17 to the age of 20 in the study. All of the participants received education that instilled higher levels of self-control. A genetic assessment conducted on the participants at the age of 20 showed that they all had higher levels of the stress response hormones glucocorticoids and catecholamines than is considered to be normal for people of that age. The presence of these hormones was correlated with a potential for advanced rates of aging and age-related diseases.
The researchers show that higher level of stress hormones and the attendant potential for health problems were as result of the additional stress that black teens experience as a result of discrimination and added obstacles to success. Self-control is not the problem. The normal elimination of the hormones that produce stress was overcome by a constant and consistent level of stress.
The researchers present their findings in an effort to make changes to the present school curricula and government programs. The authors plan a broader study that includes disadvantaged Caucasians, Hispanics, and Asians. The same group of researchers has previously found a correlation between self-control teaching and poor cardiovascular health in black teens.