Researchers, led by Drew Barzman, MD, a child and adolescent forensic psychiatrist at Cincinnati Children's, collected saliva samples from 17 boys ages 7-9 admitted to the hospital for psychiatric care to identify which children were most likely to show aggression and violence.
The samples, collected three times in one day shortly after admission, were tested for levels of three hormones - testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and cortisol.
The severity and frequency of aggression correlated with the levels of these hormones.
Barzman's team focused on rapid, real-time assessment of violence among child and adolescent inpatients, a common problem in psychiatric units.
But he believes a fast and accurate saliva test could eventually have several other applications.
"We believe salivary hormone testing has the potential to help doctors monitor which treatments are working best for their patients," Barzman said.
"And because mental health professionals are far more likely to be assaulted on the job than the average worker, it could offer a quick way to anticipate violent behavior in child psychiatric units. Eventually, we hope this testing might also provide a tool to help improve safety in schools," he added.
The study is published online in the journal Psychiatric Quarterly.