Should our legal system consider a person’s low resting heart rate (“RHR”) as a mitigating factor in lessening punishment for crimes? Scientists say they can now identify young men who are nearly 50 percent more likely than their peers to become violent criminals via a basic heart rate test. The test measures a person’s resting heart rate, and if that person has fewer than 60 beats per minute, he might be physiologically predisposed to commit robbery, assault, kidnapping or even murder, pursuant to the scientists’ research.
Studies from more than a dozen countries have found that people with slow-beating hearts are more likely to behave in anti-social ways. However, it must be noted that most of these studies involved a small number of people, and they weren’t tracked for long periods of time.
Based on their research results, the scientists found that men considered in their study with the lowest resting heart rates at age 18 were most likely to commit crimes as they got older, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. In analyzing the data, the researchers accounted for various factors that might influence the men’s heart rate or their risk for criminal behavior. They controlled for height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure and (when available) the maximum amount of “work” the men could do during an exercise test — all measures related to cardiovascular fitness. They also controlled for each man’s socioeconomic status, IQ and psychiatric health. When these variables were taken into account, they found that the men with the slowest resting heart rates were 49 percent more likely to become violent criminals than the men with the fastest resting heart rates. They were also 33 percent more likely to be convicted of a nonviolent crime, such as a drug or traffic offense. It’s not clear why a low heart rate would make people predisposed to anti-social — or even criminal — behavior.
The study’s results seem to raise perplexing, and perhaps even rhetorical, questions. Can we really blame a person for his slower heart rate, or for the violence caused as a result of the same? Should our legal system consider a person’s low RHR as a mitigating factor in lessening punishment for crimes committed in Washington?
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