|Vol. 4, No. 1, 1998 Page 5|
Researcher Adrian Raine believes many individuals are biologically predisposed to crime because they suffer from chronic nervous system under-arousal. These individuals, Raine suggests, seek out stimulating events, and thus are attracted to dangerous, violent, or criminal activities.
In the 1970s, Raine and colleagues reported that children with lower resting heart rates, lower skin conductance activity, and more slow-frequency EEG activity-all indicating under-arousal- were significantly more likely than other children to become criminals in their adult years (see related article, Crime Times, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 1/2, Page 6). This year the researchers published data, gathered from 1,795 male and female subjects, showing that children with low resting heart rates at age three were much more aggressive at age 11 than children with higher heart rates.
A new study, by Raine, Patricia Brennan, and other researchers, extends this research by offering evidence that high nervous system arousal can protect against criminal behavior, even in individuals at high risk for criminality.
In the new study, Brennan et al. divided 94 male subjects into four groups: criminals with criminal fathers, non-criminals with criminal fathers, criminals with non-criminal fathers, and non- criminals with non-criminal fathers. The researchers then measured subjects' skin conductance and heart rate responses.
Brennan et al. report that skin conductance and heart rate responses were significantly higher in non-criminals with criminal fathers than in the other three groups. "It is important to note," they say, "that the protected group did not simply exhibit `normal' autonomic nervous system functioning; this group showed higher levels of autonomic nervous system responsiveness than the non-criminal subjects with non-criminal fathers, which was the normal comparison group of the cohort." In short, the researchers theorize that high-risk subjects who did not turn to criminality were protected by unusually responsive nervous systems, which may "reflect enhanced attentional or emotional processing."
Raine et al. conducted a similar study in 1995 (see related article, Crime Times, 1996, Vol. 2, No. 1, Page 2), in which they investigated the outcomes of subjects labeled as "antisocial" in adolescence. The researchers found that subjects who did not commit criminal acts in adulthood had significantly higher electrodermal and cardiovascular arousal than those involved in adult criminal activity.
"Psychophysiological protective factors for male subjects at high risk for criminal behavior," Patricia A. Brennan, Adrian Raine, Fini Schulsinger, Lis Kirkegaard-Sorensen, Joachim Knop, Barry Hutchings, Raben Rosenberg, and Sarnoff A. Mednick, American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 154, No. 6, 1997, pp. 853-855. Address: Patricia Brennan, Dept. of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322.
"Low resting heart rate at age 3 years predisposes to aggression at age 11 years: evidence from the Mauritius Child Health Project," Adrian Raine, P. H. Venables, and Sarnoff A. Mednick, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol. 36, No. 10, Oct. 1997, pp. 1457-1464. Address: Adrian Raine, Department of Psychology, S.G.M. Building, USC, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061.