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Biological clues linked to criminal record.

Biological clues linked to criminal record

By following the fates of British schoolboys for nearly a decade, researchers have identified three physiological markers that, combined with other factors, may help predict criminal behavior among young men.

Students who went on to commit serious criminal offenses as young adults had significantly lower heart rates and decreased electrical activity in the skin and brain during adolescence, report psychologist Adrian Raine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and two British colleagues. This represents the first good evidence from a prospective study that many criminals experience subdued physiological arousal, the researchers maintain.

From three schools in England, Raine's team recruited 101 15-year-old boys whose academic and social backgrounds represented a national cross-section of male teenagers. In 1978 and 1979, they obtained physiological measures from each youth.

In 1988, a search of the British government's computerized record of serious criminal offenses turned up 17 of the study participants, then 24 years of age. Their most common crimes were burglary and theft, with a few instances including the wounding of another person during he offense. Five had been imprisoned at some time.

The three measures of physiological arousal during adolescence correctly classified the adult criminal status of three-quarters of the entire sample, the scientists point out in the November ARCHIVES OF GENERAL PSYCHIATRY. Overall, criminals began the study with substantially lower arousal levels than did men with no criminal record.

Since one in four of the young men eluded accurate classification based on physiological responses, the results "do not negate the potential role of social and psychological variables in predicting criminal behavior," Raine says. The researchers note, however, that physiological differences between criminals and noncriminals were not statistically linked to several important environmental factors, including family income, neighborhood crime rate and academic performance. Other, undetermined environmental influences may promote the connection between crime and lowered physiological arousal, they add.

Genetic inheritance plays a partial role in determining an individual's heart rate and the electrical activity level of the skin and brain, the investigators assert. Thus, lowered arousal on these measures may reflect a genetic predisposition to criminality that responds to certain psychological and social circumstances, they conclude.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 10, 1990
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