Hostile behavior during marital conflict alters pituitary and adrenal hormones

W. B. Malarkey, J. K. Kiecolt-Glaser, D. Pearl, R. Glaser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

154 Scopus citations


We evaluated hormonal changes and problem-solving behaviors in 90 newlywed couples who were admitted to a hospital research unit for 24 hours. The subjects were selected on the basis of stringent mental and physical health criteria, and admissions were scheduled during the follicular phase of the woman's menstrual cycle. For frequent, unobtrusive endocrine sampling during the interaction tasks, a long polyethylene tube was attached to a heparin well, allowing nurses to draw blood samples at set intervals, out of subjects' sight. Five blood samples were obtained before, during, and after a 30-minute structured problem-solving or conflict task. The conflict session was recorded on videotapes that were later scored for problem-solving behaviors using the Marital Interaction Coding System (MICS). Marital conflict and MICS-coded hostile or negative behavior during conflict was closely linked to changes in serum hormonal levels across five of the six hormones we studied, in spite of the high marital satisfaction of our newlywed couples and the healthy lifestyles demanded by our exclusion criteria. Hostile behavior was associated with decreased levels of prolactin (PRL) and increases in epinephrine (EPI), norepinephrine (NEPI), ACTH, and growth hormone (GH), but not cortisol. These data suggest that the endocrine system may be an important mediator between personal relationships and health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-51
Number of pages11
JournalPsychosomatic medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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