Abstract # 257:

Scheduled for Thursday, August 9, 2001 01:30 PM-02:30 PM: (Fine Arts Auditorium) Featured Speaker


M. A. Novak
Division of Behavioral Biology, New England Regional Primate Research Center, Southborough, MA 01772
     Self-injurious behavior (SIB) is a significant human health problem for which there is no widely accepted treatment. In the past, SIB was thought to be associated with genetic diseases and psychiatric disorders. However, increasingly it has been reported to occur in the general population. The seemingly spontaneous development of self-injurious behavior is not confined to humans, occurring also in a small percentage of captive housed rhesus monkeys who injure themselves through biting. We have now characterized self-injurious behavior in monkeys and identified some of the risk factors that make individuals vulnerable to this disorder. Key characteristics include heightened aggressiveness and a blunted response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to mild stressors. Some monkeys appear to be more vulnerable to acquiring SIB. This increased vulnerability is associated with certain early social experiences within the first two years of life and with exposure to a larger number of moderately stressful events as compared to controls. Our findings also suggest that self-injurious behavior may be a coping strategy to reduce arousal. Biting appears to rapidly lower an escalating heart rate and is directed to body sites associated with acupuncture analgesia. The potentially reinforcing effects of SIB may account for the failure of various treatment regimens including both pharmacotherapy and environmental manipulations. Parallels to recent human studies are discussed.