Psychology of cutting: mother issue?

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Researchers at University of Washington studied 20 adolescents with a history of self-harming behavior and 21 age-matched adolescents who did not harm themselves. The participants and their mothers filled out behavioral questionnaires examining the adolescents’ mental health and self-injurious behaviors. Then the parents and teenagers were asked to discuss a conflict for 10 minutes. Afterward, the serotonin level of the teen was determined by taking a blood sample.

The result suggested that "low levels of serotonin, in combination with mother-daughter conflict, increase the chances of adolescent girls engaging in self-injuring behaviors such as cutting." However, considering the fact that only mothers were interviewed and tested in this study, it would be overly presumptuous to suggest that mother-daughter is THE environmental factor affecting the teenagers' behaviour.

Indeed, Shelia Crowell, a co-author of the study, was careful in saying that “the biological risk factor is serotonin, and the environmental risk factor is high family conflict. The combination of these factors help us understand those [self-injuring] behaviors."

The paper was published in the February issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. A report of this study can be found here.

Film(s) feature teenage self injury: Thirteen (Hardwicke, 2003).

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