Here’s how heart rate could influence why men are more prone to criminal activity

A new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania produced evidence that shows men’s lower resting heart rate could contribute to why they commit crimes at a higher rate.

The research, published in Criminology, was led by Olivia Choy, a PhD graduate from Penn’s department of criminology who will join Nanyang Technology University as an assistant professor in July.

The study, completed in Penn Professor Adrian Raine’s lab, builds on prior research showing that people with low resting heart rates seek ways to raise it to a more optimal one, a condition usually associated with fearlessness, which could explain why they may be more violent.

"One way to get that stimulation is by engaging in antisocial behavior," Choy said in a statement. "Obviously, you can engage in prosocial behavior, say, for example, like skydiving, but another major theory connects low levels of arousal to low heart rate, reflecting a low level of fear in individuals. To commit a crime, you do need a level of fearlessness, so these are two major explanations for why we see this relationship between low heart rate and antisocial behavior."

In Choy’s study, she examined data from a longitudinal study that measures the heart rate of participants at 11 years old. With more than 890 patients, results showed that heart rate partly accounts for gender differences in both violent and nonviolent crime when patients were assessed at 23 years old. Resting heart rate account for 5 to 17 percent of the gender difference in crime rates.

"We think cardiovascular functioning partly explains sex difference in crime because low heart rate is a marker for other mechanisms like lack of fear and stimulation-seeking,” Raine said in a statement.