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Does Resting Heart Rate at Age 18 Distinguish General and Violent Offending up to Age 50? Findings From the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 41 Issue: 4 Dated: July - August 2013 Pages: 213-219
Wesley G. Jennings; Alex R. Piquero; David P. Farrington
Date Published
August 2013
7 pages
Using data from a longitudinal study of 411 South London males first assessed in childhood and followed in criminal records through age 50 (the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development), the current study examined whether low resting heart rate predicted total offending frequency and involvement in violence.
The study determined that heart rate was found to be a significant correlate of criminal offending while controlling for childhood and adolescent risk factors that have been found to be related to antisocial and criminal behavior in prior research. Potentially relevant influential factors were also controlled, including smoking, participation in team sports, impulsivity, excessive drinking, and Body Mass Index (BMI). Due to data constraints, the study was unable to examine whether resting heart rate was stable over time and how this potentially modifiable factor may relate to offending over the life course. On this point, Van Hulle et al. (2000) found that heart rate was moderately correlated across all time points in the MacArthur Longitudinal Twin Study. In that study the heart rate was measured at ages 14, 20, and 24. On the other hand, some important studies show that resting heart rate is modifiable in response to the interaction of genes and environmental factors, physical activity, and medical treatment (Nauman et al., 2011). The findings of the current study likely have some relevance in the autonomic arousal literature, given that the insular cortex has been linked to the capacity to express empathy for pain in others, fear, conduct disorder, psychopathy, and violence. In this regard, low heart rate may be an indicator of low cortical arousal, which leads to risk-taking to increase arousal, an uninhibited temperament, and aggression. Recommendations for future research focus on additional research questions and analyses. 2 tables and 54 references