Relationships between central and autonomic measures of arousal at age 15 years and criminality at age 24 years

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1990 Nov;47(11):1003-7. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.1990.01810230019003.


Previous studies have indicated that criminality is in part genetically determined, but it is not clear how this predisposition manifests itself at a biological level. This prospective study tests the hypothesis that a psychophysiological predisposition to criminality partly manifests itself through autonomic and central nervous system underarousal. Psychophysiological measures, taken at the age of 15 years, were related to criminality status that was assessed at the age of 24 years. Criminals had a significantly lower resting heart rate, skin conductance activity, and more slow-frequency electroencephalographic activity than noncriminals. Differences were not mediated by social, demographic, and academic factors. These results constitute the first clear evidence that implicates underarousal in all three response systems (electrodermal, cardiovascular, and cortical) in the development of criminality. Although arousal variables correctly classified 74.7% of all subjects, psychophysiological factors alone cannot fully account for criminal behavior and do not negate the potential role of social variables in predicting criminal behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / genetics
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Criminal Psychology*
  • Criminology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Galvanic Skin Response
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Probability