Researchers from Pennsylvania State University are studying pediatric drool:
In four separate studies of mothers and their infants, preschoolers, kids and teens, a multi-university research team has shown, for the first time, that a simple test of a little drool can provide new insight into the role of social stressors, including relationships with parents and teachers, in child development.
The test monitors alpha amylase, an enzyme secreted by the salivary glands, that has been linked in adults to the sympathetic nervous system’s (SNS) fight or flight response. Now, in these new studies, alpha amylase has been shown to be a marker for the SNS response in children, too.
The current findings suggest that social forces largely determine individual differences in alpha amylase levels. The social stressors used in the studies included babies being gently restrained by a stranger and the older children having to complete a frustrating task, interact with a teacher, or be evaluated. Social relationships with mothers and teachers also were found to influence alpha amylase levels.
Douglas A. Granger, associate professor of biobehavioral health and human development and family studies at Penn State, is first author of the team’s recently published paper on the study. “Being able to monitor alpha amylase via a salivary test may open new opportunities to characterize individual differences in response to stress that we weren’t able to see before. We think that these differences could prove to be meaningful in understanding behavior,” he said…
The findings reported include the observation that mothers and their 6-month-old baby sons were “attuned” and had similar alpha amylase levels. Among the 8- and 9-year olds studied, there was a pattern of positive associations between alpha amylase and social problems, aggressive behavior and cognitive/academic problems. In addition, the researchers report that 4-year-old children with higher alpha amylase were more susceptible to illness and had less-close relationships with their preschool teachers. The associations between alpha amylase and illness were somewhat stronger for girls than for boys.