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We are our saliva

Easier to get volunteers for this kind of study

Dear Matthew: My friend tells me that he read that scientists can figure out from somebody's spit whether or not a person is likely to be a criminal when they grow up. I think he's got some of his facts confused. How can this be? What can spit tell you about somebody? — Need New Friends, El Cajon

I’ve been long convinced that there is absolutely no subject so obscure, revolting, boring, or pointless that someone, somewhere isn’t studying it. And more than likely, with a federal grant. Case in point: spit. The Einstein of expectoration: James Dabbs, Georgia State University psychologist. (Funding source: National Science Foundation.) Dabbs is poking around in saliva to determine individual testosterone levels, with hopes, apparently, of shedding some light on the effects of sex hormones on personality. Hormone levels gauged from saliva are as reliable as those from blood, and it’s easier to get volunteers to spit than to bleed for you, apparently. To hear him tell it, his students have hardly any trouble getting total strangers accosted on the street to spit into a little cup for them, which to me is more amazing than any conclusions he’s reached so far from his studies.

To date, Dabbs has about 3000 samples from the general population of men and women, plus some selected populations, such as ministers and violent criminal inmates. In general, so far, his analyses show higher than normal testosterone levels among some salesmen, lawyers, prisoners, and people with no jobs at all. But he doesn’t necessarily find high levels in Type A-personality executives or others who are driven to achieve. High testosterone levels seem more clearly related to physical violence than to more benign types of aggressiveness. Even violent female inmates have testosterone levels elevated above the average for other females. (Testosterone is produced in small quantities by women’s adrenal glands.) The low-end testosterone crowd, from Dabbs’s experience, includes ministers and farmers.

Dabbs doesn’t yet claim that a spit test will predict behavior, so your friend was taking more than a few liberties with the data. It’s all just fact-gathering at this point. Adding pieces to the big puzzle of why we human beings act as we do.

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Dear Matthew: My friend tells me that he read that scientists can figure out from somebody's spit whether or not a person is likely to be a criminal when they grow up. I think he's got some of his facts confused. How can this be? What can spit tell you about somebody? — Need New Friends, El Cajon

I’ve been long convinced that there is absolutely no subject so obscure, revolting, boring, or pointless that someone, somewhere isn’t studying it. And more than likely, with a federal grant. Case in point: spit. The Einstein of expectoration: James Dabbs, Georgia State University psychologist. (Funding source: National Science Foundation.) Dabbs is poking around in saliva to determine individual testosterone levels, with hopes, apparently, of shedding some light on the effects of sex hormones on personality. Hormone levels gauged from saliva are as reliable as those from blood, and it’s easier to get volunteers to spit than to bleed for you, apparently. To hear him tell it, his students have hardly any trouble getting total strangers accosted on the street to spit into a little cup for them, which to me is more amazing than any conclusions he’s reached so far from his studies.

To date, Dabbs has about 3000 samples from the general population of men and women, plus some selected populations, such as ministers and violent criminal inmates. In general, so far, his analyses show higher than normal testosterone levels among some salesmen, lawyers, prisoners, and people with no jobs at all. But he doesn’t necessarily find high levels in Type A-personality executives or others who are driven to achieve. High testosterone levels seem more clearly related to physical violence than to more benign types of aggressiveness. Even violent female inmates have testosterone levels elevated above the average for other females. (Testosterone is produced in small quantities by women’s adrenal glands.) The low-end testosterone crowd, from Dabbs’s experience, includes ministers and farmers.

Dabbs doesn’t yet claim that a spit test will predict behavior, so your friend was taking more than a few liberties with the data. It’s all just fact-gathering at this point. Adding pieces to the big puzzle of why we human beings act as we do.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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