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 Are you a natural born hero? Scientists believe stress hormone makes people brave or cowardly

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PostSubject: Are you a natural born hero? Scientists believe stress hormone makes people brave or cowardly   Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:03 am

Are you a natural born hero? Scientists believe stress hormone makes people brave or cowardly

Last updated at 1:29 AM on 17th February 2009

All American hero: Pilot Chesley Sullenberger was given a 'Key to the City' last week for his bravery landing a plane on the Hudson River in New York

Some individuals are born heroes, scientists believe.

Research shows that the stress hormone cortisol can make the difference between being a hero or a coward.

Those who rise to the challenge do not experience the cortisol rush of those who fall to pieces when the going gets tough.

Researcher Deane Aikins said the findings could explain the cool head of Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who averted disaster by landing his plane on New York's Hudson River last month.

He said: 'There are some individuals who when confronted with extreme stress, their hormone profile is rather unique.

'It doesn't reach the same peak as the rest of us. So we're all ready to scream in our chairs, but there are individuals who just don't get as stressed.'

When the Yale University psychiatrist subjected soldiers to concentration camp simulations and other stressful situations he found those who remained calm made less cortisol.

They also made more neuropeptide Y, a compound that counteracts the effects of cortisol.

Dr Aikins told the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual conference that he believed the results showed that some individuals were born heroes.

'Certain people are cooler under pressure and perform very, very well,' he said.

Dr Aikins has shown that by measuring hormone levels it is possible to predict who will keep their cool under pressure. His work has caught the eye of the U.S. military chiefs, who believe it could be used to create the perfect soldier.

Using the right cocktail of supplements, steroids and mind exercises, it might be possible to turn run- of-the-mill recruits into heroes.

Candidate supplements include the steroid DHEA which protects the body from the effects of cortisol.

Dr Aikins said: 'In combative service, you can't turn down anybody. The question is how do you get folks who aren't as cool in terms of stress turned up so they're perhaps comparable. That's the holy grail right now of the Department of Defence.'

He added: 'We don't want someone walking around in the battlefield inured to stress. The military has often thought the perfect warrior is fearless but we need fear to stay alive. We need to be able to tell it is a dangerous situation.'

Boosting resilience and cutting stress should cut soldiers' chances of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the Chicago conference heard.

Dr Aikins said: 'I think the foundations are in place to start testing whether supplements increase resilience and increase recovery from stress.'

But others questioned the ethics of desensitising soldiers.

Ethicist Stephanie Bird said: 'One of the things we know about drugs is that there are none that don't have side-effects. The question is what are the side-effects, are they rare or long-term?

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