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Blunted cortisol reactivity and risky driving in young offenders – a pilot study

Sophie Couture, Marie Claude Ouimet, Katarina Dedovic, Catherine Laurier, Pierrich Plusquellec and Thomas G. Brown


Adolescent risky driving is a significant burden on public health. Young offenders (i.e. under custody and supervision of the criminal justice system) may be particularly vulnerable, but research is scant. Previous work indicated that blunted cortisol reactivity to stress is a marker of risk-taking predisposition, including risky driving. In this study, we hypothesized that young offenders display higher levels of risky driving than a non-offender comparison group, and that cortisol reactivity contributes to the variance in risky driving independent of other associated characteristics (i.e. impulsivity, risk taking, alcohol and drug use). We found that young offenders (n = 20) showed riskier driving in simulation than comparison group (n = 9), and blunted cortisol reactivity was significantly associated with risky driving. The results suggest young offenders are prone to risky driving, and that individual differences in the cortisol stress response may be an explanatory factor.


This study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Team in Transdisciplinary Studies into DWI Onset, Persistence, Prevention and Treatment awarded to the senior author (TGB) and second author (MCO). MCO was supported through a career award from the Quebec Health Research Fund (Fonds de recherche du QuébecSanté). The authors would like to acknowledge the precious contribution of Martin Paquette, Sarah Doucet, Lidia Corado, Queenie Wong, Maude Sauvé-Lafrance, Janie Boucher, Lucie Legault, Hervé Tchouake, Nathalie Gélinas, Claire-Dominique Walker and her laboratory.


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Received: 2017-07-17
Accepted: 2017-09-10
Published Online: 2018-01-13

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