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Physiol Behav. 2011 Aug 3;104(2):291-5. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.03.003. Epub 2011 Mar 23.

A novelty seeking phenotype is related to chronic hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity reflected by hair cortisol.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado at Denver School of Medicine, Denver, CO 80220, USA.


Reduced hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) activity is associated with greater novelty seeking in humans. Hair cortisol represents an integrated proxy measure of total cortisol production/release over an extended period of time and may be a valuable tool for tracking the HPA system. Sampling approaches (collection of blood, saliva, urine, or feces) for socially housed nonhuman primates present a number of technical challenges for collection particularly when repeated sampling is necessary. Herein we describe a relationship between cortisol levels measured in hair collected from 230 socially housed female vervet (Chlorocebus aethiops sabaeus) monkeys and a free-choice novelty seeking phenotype. A predator-like object was placed at the periphery of the outdoor enclosures for 30 min and speed of approach (latency to approach within 1m) and persistence of interest (number of 1 min intervals within 1m) were scored. A composite Novelty Seeking score, combining these two measures, was calculated. The intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC=.68) for two different objects across years indicated that this score reflects a stable aspect of temperament. Hair samples were collected from each subject approximately 3-6 months following the second assessment; cortisol levels were determined from the hair. A significant inverse relationship of Novelty Seeking score with hair cortisol level (p<.01) was noted. The high hair cortisol groups had significantly lower Novelty Seeking scores than the low cortisol groups both years (p's<.05). These results suggest that low average cortisol levels promote novelty seeking, while high average levels inhibit novelty seeking behavior.

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