10 Sep Low Resting Heart Rate in Men Linked to Crime, Accidents and Antisocial Behavior
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Antti Latvala PhD
Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki
Medical Research: What is the background for this study?
Dr. Latvala: Motivation for the study came from the fact that antisocial and aggressive behavior has been associated with lower resting heart rate in children and adolescents. Heart rate, being regulated by the autonomic nervous system, has been viewed as an indicator of stress responding or autonomic arousal, and the association has been hypothesized to indicate low levels of stress or a chronically low level of autonomic arousal in antisocial individuals. However, empirical evidence for such an association in adulthood has been very limited.
Medical Research: What are the main findings?
Dr. Latvala: We found that men with lower resting heart rate had an increased risk of violent and nonviolent criminality. Specifically, men in the lowest fifth of the heart rate distribution had an estimated 39% increased risk for violent criminality and a 25% increased risk for nonviolent crimes compared with men in the highest fifth. These are estimates after adjusting for physical, cardiovascular, cognitive and socioeconomic covariates. When we further adjusted for cardiorespiratory fitness, which was available in a subsample, the associations were even stronger.
In addition to the crime outcomes, we found that low resting heart rate predicted exposure to assaults and accidents, such as traffic crashes, falls and poisonings, in a very similar fashion.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Latvala: The most important implications of our study concern future research on the biological background of antisocial behavior. Our study confirmed the association between low resting heart and subsequent antisocial behavior across adulthood, and now that we know that this is a real association, more detailed research designs – for example experimental or genetic research – can be undertaken to better understand the mechanisms driving this association. Practical implications may be less clear. In principle, physiological markers such as heart rate may be useful, in combination with other well-known risk factors, for prevention and intervention efforts by helping to identify individuals who have an elevated risk for antisocial behavior and violence.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Latvala: We don’t really understand the mechanisms behind this association, and we don’t know the actual causal factors driving it. For example, we don’t know to what extent it reflects differences in stress responding to the testing situation, and to what extent it is a more stable difference that would also be seen in long-term measurements of heart rate. Also, because heart rate is affected both by sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic nervous system, we don’t know whether this association is specific to one of them or relates to autonomic functioning more generally. It is also important to point out that our study and most previous research only included men, and we don’t know whether the association is similar or different in women. Finally, genetic research has implicated a large number of genetic variants influencing both heart rate and antisocial behavior, but whether some of this biology is shared between the two is not known.
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Antti Latvala PhD (2015). Low Resting Heart Rate in Men Linked to Crime, Accidents and Antisocial Behavior